The dance of merging galaxies captured by the new Webb Telescope
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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 the new Web image, along with a new composite 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. The 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, distorting their individual shapes. A galactic merger occurs when two or more galaxies collide in space.
Bright regions where stars are 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.
Bright regions of star birth are of interest to astronomers using the Webb because they appear even brighter when viewed in infrared light.
While infrared is invisible to the human eye, Webb’s abilities allow him to spy on previously unseen aspects of the universe.
The Webb 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 things, why bright infrared galaxies like II ZW 96 shine brightly in infrared light, reaching a luminosity more than 100 billion times that of our Sun.
The researchers turned Webb’s instruments on merging galaxies, including II ZW 96, to pick out fine details and compare 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.
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