James Webb Observes a Cosmic Question Mark

In una recente immagine del telescopio spaziale James Webb è comparso un punto interrogativo cosmico. Che cos'è questo strano oggetto ?

James Webb Space Telescope continues to provide answers about the early universe, while simultaneously addressing many other questions. Team at the European Space Agency (ESA) released a new image on Wednesday, June 26th. James Webb has offered a detailed look at two young stars in active formation, situated 1,470 light-years from Earth in the Vela constellation. In the image, the stars, named Herbig-Haro 46/47, are surrounded by a disk of material that “feeds” the stars as they grow over millions of years.

But just below those stars, in the background of the stunning image captured by James Webb, there is an object resembling a giant cosmic question mark. Is the universe asking us something? It’s not clear exactly what the question mark-shaped object might be, but its color and shape give us an idea.

Merger of Two Galaxies

“It’s likely a distant galaxy, or potentially interacting galaxies. Their interactions could have caused the distorted shape of the question mark” representatives from the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, which oversees James Webb’s scientific operations, said. According to STScI, the red color of the object in the image tells scientists that the object, whatever it is, is quite distant.

Certainly, this could be the first time astronomers have seen a cosmic question mark. “This could be the first time we’re seeing this particular object” added the STScI. “Further follow-up would be needed to understand what it is with certainty. James Webb is showing us many new distant galaxies, so there’s a lot of new science to be done”.

Matt Caplan, Assistant Professor of Physics at Illinois State University, stated that the object could be the merger of two galaxies. “Two distinct features could easily be the merging of galaxies in the background. Top part of the question mark is part of a larger galaxy that is being tidally disrupted. Given the color of other galaxies in the background, this doesn’t seem like the worst explanation. Despite mergers being chaotic, double-lobed objects with sinuous tails extending far from them are quite typical.”

750 Scientific Papers in the First Year of James Webb

Caplan added that there are many other possibilities as well but ruled out it being a star due to the lack of eight-point diffraction spikes caused by the structure of James Webb’s primary mirror. More astounding discoveries like this cosmic question mark will surely come thanks to the high-resolution near-infrared imaging capabilities of James Webb.

The enormous potential of the space telescope allows it to peer into the edges of the universe, spotting distant galaxies up to 13.4 billion light-years away. A cosmos that existed only 420 million years after the Big Bang. According to STScI (ref.), over 750 peer-reviewed scientific papers have been published using data produced by the new space telescope in its first year of operation.

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