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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 view the new Webb image along with a new composite of the Pillars of Creation taken by the Space Observatory during a visit to NASA Headquarters in Washington on Wednesday.
The Webb Telescope, designed to observe faint, distant galaxies and other worlds, is an international mission by NASA and its partners, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.
The pair of galaxies known as II ZW 96 are located about 500 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Delphinus. Points of light in the background of the image represent other distant galaxies.
The swirling shape of the two galaxies was created as they began to merge, disrupting their individual forms. Galactic mergers occur 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 merger’s gravitational pull.
Stars are formed when clouds of gas and dust inside galaxies collapse. As galaxies merge, more star formation is triggered — and astronomers want to know why.
The glowing regions of star formation are of interest to astronomers using Webb because they appear even brighter when viewed in infrared light.
While infrared is invisible to the human eye, Webb’s abilities allow it to spy on previously unseen aspects of the universe.
Both Webb’s near-infrared camera and mid-infrared instrument were used to capture the new image.
Astronomers use the observatory to study how galaxies evolve and why luminous infrared galaxies like II ZW 96 shine brightly in infrared light, reaching luminosities more than 100 billion times that of our Sun.
Researchers have pointed Webb’s instruments at merging galaxies, including II ZW 96, to pick out fine details and compare the images to those previously taken by ground-based telescopes and the Hubble Space Telescope. Together, the observations can provide a more complete picture of how galaxies change over time.