NASA's Webb telescope offers a spectacular glimpse of merging galaxies
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has caught a pair of merging galaxies called II ZW 96. The cosmic collision lies approximately 500 million light-years away, in the constellation Delphinus. The reason why the colliding galaxies appear distorted is because of the gravitational attraction between them. While the galactic merger takes the center stage, several other galaxies can also be spotted in the picture.
Why does this story matter?
- The James Webb space observatory is led by NASA, in partnership with ESA (European Space Agency) and CSA (Canadian Space Agency).
- The telescope is designed to probe deeper into space and to observe the earliest stars and galaxies that formed in the universe.
- However, this is not the first time that the observatory has caught a glimpse of merging galaxies.
Luminous Infrared Galaxies are 100 billion times brighter than Sun
The image of II ZW 96 was captured using two of Webb's onboard instruments dubbed NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera) and MIRI (Mid-Infrared Instrument). In attempts to provide insights into the evolution of galaxies, the telescope has been focussing on the Luminous Infrared Galaxies, which are exceptionally bright at infrared wavelengths and their luminosities are about 100 billion times brighter than that of the Sun.
The formation of stars makes these galaxies appear exceptionally bright
As a result of merging, the galaxies have "chaotic, disturbed shapes." Star formation is what makes these galaxies appear markedly bright at infrared wavelengths. "The bright cores of the two galaxies are connected by bright tendrils of star-forming regions," explained NASA. The spiral arms of the lower galaxy have been twisted out of shape because of the "gravitational perturbation of the galaxy merger."
The galactic pair has been previously imaged by Hubble telescope
The II ZW 96 pair of galaxies have been previously observed with ground-based telescopes and the Hubble Space Telescope. With the help of Webb's unique capabilities, astronomers will now be able to uncover more details of complex galactic environments.