The James Webb Space Telescope has captured a pair of entwining galaxies plunging headfirst into one another in a process known as a galaxy merger, in a new picture released by NASA.
The interacting galaxy system, formally known as IC 1623, lies about 270 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Cetus.
Its merger ignites a frenzy of star formation known as a starburst, which creates new stars at a rate “more than 20 times that of the Milky Way galaxy”, according to NASA.
This ongoing — and extreme — starburst state means the merger is releasing intense infrared emissions.
In fact, NASA says the merging galaxies “may well be in the process of forming a supermassive black hole”.
And because this merging galaxy system happens to be particularly bright at infrared wavelengths, it makes it a suitable target for James Webb to capture — and for astronomers to study.
The telescope’s trailblazing infrared sensitivity technology — the Mid-InfraRed Instrument (MIRI), the Near-InfraRed Spectograph (NIRISpec) and the Near-InfraRed Camera (NIRCam) — were used by a team to capture the merging galaxies at an impressive resolution at significant wavelengths.
Prior to the James Webb telescope, a thick band of dust had blocked these valuable insights from view.
The image of the galaxies, captured across the infrared portions of the electromagnetic spectrum, will aid the research greatly, NASA says.
“They [astronomers] provided an abundance of data that will allow the astronomical community at large to fully explore how Webb’s unprecedented capabilities will help to unravel the complex interactions in galactic ecosystems,” the space agency said.
“[It will] help the astronomical community fully explore how Webb’s unprecedented capabilities will help to unravel the complex interactions in galactic ecosystems.”
Last week, NASA released photos of the spectacular and highly detailed landscape of the iconic Pillars of Creation.