Dance of merging galaxies captured in new Webb Telescope image
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The beautiful chaos of two merging galaxies shines in the latest image captured by the James Webb Space Telescope.
Vice President Kamala Harris and French President Emmanuel Macron previewed Webb’s new image, along with a new mix of Pillars of creation captured by the space observatory during a visit to NASA headquarters in Washington on Wednesday.
The pair of galaxies known as II ZW 96 is located about 500 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Delphinus. Points of light in the background of the image represent other distant galaxies.
The swirling shape of the two galaxies was created when they began to merge, breaking their individual shapes. Galactic mergers occur when two or more galaxies collide in space.
Bright regions where stars are being born glow in the center of the image, while the spiral arms of the lower galaxy are twisted by the gravitational pull of the merger.
Stars form when clouds of gas and dust collapse inside galaxies. When galaxies merge, more star formation is triggered — and astronomers want to know why.
The glowing regions of star birth are of interest to Webb astronomers because they appear even brighter when viewed in infrared light.
While infrared is invisible to the human eye, Webb’s capabilities allow it to spy on never-before-seen aspects of the universe.
Webb’s Near Infrared Camera and Mid-Infrared Instrument were used to capture the new image.
Astronomers use the observatory to study how galaxies evolve and, among other topics, why luminous infrared galaxies like II ZW 96 shine brightly in infrared light, reaching a luminosity more than 100 billion times that of our sun.
Researchers pointed Webb’s instruments at merging galaxies, including II ZW 96, to pick out fine details and compare the images with those previously taken by ground-based telescopes and the Hubble Space Telescope. Together, the observations can reveal a more complete picture of how galaxies change over time.