Galaxy merger dance captured in new Webb Telescope image

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The beautiful chaos of two merging galaxies shines bright in the latest image captured by the James Webb Space Telescope.

Vice President Kamala Harris and French President Emmanuel Macron viewed the new image of Webb, along with a new composition of the Pillars of Creation captured by the space observatory, during a visit to NASA headquarters in Washington on Wednesday.

The Webb Telescope, designed to observe faint and distant galaxies and other worlds, is an international mission between NASA and its partners, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

The pair of galaxies, known as II ZW 96, lie about 500 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Delphinus. The light points in the background of the image represent other distant galaxies.

The swirling shape of the two galaxies was created when they began to merge, altering their individual shapes. Galaxy mergers occur when two or more galaxies collide in space.

Bright regions where stars are born shine bright 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 luminous areas of star birth are of interest to astronomers using Webb because they appear even brighter when viewed in infrared light.

While infrared is invisible to the naked eye, Webb’s capabilities allow him to spy on previously unseen aspects of the universe.

Webb’s near-infrared camera and mid-infrared instrument were used to capture the new image.

Astronomers are using 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 luminosities of more than 100 billion times that of our sun.

The researchers have turned Webb’s instruments on 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.

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