NASA’s James Webb Telescope captures an extreme view of merging galaxies

NASA’s James Webb Telescope captures an extreme view of merging galaxies

Now that we have a powerful lens pointed at the deepest regions of the universe, our definition of “surprise” has changed slightly when it comes to astronomy photographs.

It’s no longer surprising, really, when NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope reveals another bright, ancient piece of the cosmos. At this point, we know to expect nothing less than pioneering machine.

Instead, whenever the telescope sends back to impressive space image, now elicits more of a “JWST strikes again” feeling. And yet, our jaws legitimately drop every time.

This kind of dissonant version of “surprise” has happened again, to a pretty extreme degree. Last week, scientists unveiled JWST’s brilliant view of a cluster of galaxies merging around a massive black hole which hosts a rare quasar, also known as an incomprehensibly bright ray of light from the chaotic center of the void.

Lots going on here, I know. But the team behind the find believe it could go even higher.

“We think something dramatic is about to happen in these systems,” Andrey Vayner, an astronomer at Johns Hopkins and co-author of a study on the scene soon to be published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. he said in a statement. For now, you can check out a detailed outline of the discovery in a paper published in arXiv.


Artist’s concept of a galaxy with a bright quasar at its center.

NASA, ESA and J. Olmsted (STScI)

What’s especially fascinating about this portrait is that the quasar in the hand is considered an “extremely red” quasar, meaning it’s very far from us and therefore physically rooted in a primitive region of space that falls near the beginning of time

Basically, because you have to time for light to travel through space, every stream of cosmic light that reaches our eyes and our machines is seen as it was a long time ago. Even the moonlight lasts 1.3 seconds to reach Earth, so when we look at the Moon, we see it 1.3 seconds into the past.

More specifically with this quasar, scientists believe it took about 11.5 billion years for light from the object to reach Earth, meaning we are seeing it as it was 11.5 billion years ago. This also makes it, according to the team, one of the most powerful of its kind observed from such a gigantic distance (that is, 11.5 billion light-years away).

“The galaxy is at this perfect point in its life, about to transform and look completely different in a few billion years,” Vayner said of the realm where the quasar is anchored.

Analyzing a galactic rarity

In the colorful image provided by Vayner and his fellow researchers, we’re looking at several things.

Each color in this image represents material moving at a different speed.

ESA/Webb, NASA and CSA, D. Wylzalek, A. Vayner and the Q3D team, N. Zakamska

On the left is a Hubble Space Telescope view of the region studied by the team, and in the middle is a zoomed-in version of the spot where the JWST zeroed in. Take a look at the far right of this image, where you can see four individually color-coded boxes and look at different aspects of the JWST data broken down by velocity.

Red things move away from us and blue things towards us, for example.

This classification shows us how each of the galaxies involved in the spectacular merger behaves, including the one containing the extreme black hole and its accompanying red quasar, which is, in fact, the only one the team hoped to discover with the multi-billion dollar NASA. instrument

“What you see here is only a small subset of what’s in the data set,” Nadia L. Zakamska, an astrophysicist at Johns Hopkins and co-author of the study, said in a statement. “There’s too much going on here, so first we highlighted what the biggest surprise really is. Every blob here is a baby galaxy merging with this parent galaxy and the colors have different speeds and everything moves in an extremely complicated way “.

Now, Zakamska says, the team will begin to untangle the movements and improve our vision to an even greater extent. However, we’re already looking at much more incredible information than the team expected to begin with. Hubble and the Gemini-North telescope previously showed the possibility of a galaxy in transition, but definitely did not hint at the swarm we can see with the JWST. fantastic infrared equipment.

Toward the center, slightly to the southwest, is a bright circle representing Neptune.  Faint rings, also bright, can be seen surrounding the orb.  To the northwest of this globe is a bright six-pointed bluish object representing one of Neptune's moons.  Tons of spots and swi

In another spectacular image taken by Webb’s Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam), a cluster of hundreds of background galaxies, varying in size and shape, appear next to the Neptune system.


“With previous images, we thought we saw signs that the galaxy was possibly interacting with other galaxies on the merger path because their shapes are being distorted in the process,” Zakamska said. “But after I got the data from Webb, I said, ‘I have no idea what we’re looking at here, what all this stuff is!’ We spent several weeks looking and looking at these images.”

Soon, it became clear that the JWST was showing us at least three separate galaxies that are moving incredibly fast, the team said. They even think this could mark one of the densest known areas of galaxy formation in the early universe.


Artist’s impression of the quasar P172+18, which is associated with a black hole 300 times more massive than the sun.

ESO/M. Cereal fairs

Everything about this complex image is fascinating. We have the black hole, which Zakamska calls a “monster,” a very rare beam of light spewing from this black hole, and a group of galaxies on a collision course, all seen as they were. billions of years in the past.

So, dare I say it? The JWST strikes again, giving us a very valuable cosmic vignette. Cue, jaw dropping.

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