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The James Webb Space Telescope provided astronomers with a glimpse of the early universe in a new image shared on Wednesday.
The powerful space observatory is able to detect faint light from incredibly distant galaxies as they glow in infrared light, a wavelength invisible to the human eye. Webb is a crucial tool that astronomers can use to better understand how galaxies formed and evolved during the early universe.
The telescope captured an image of a cluster of galaxies called MACS0647, as well as the distant galaxy MACS0647-JD. The cluster appears as a dazzling group of galaxies that seem to sparkle like gems against the dark background of space.
The distant galaxy is visible due to some type of observatory phenomenon due to the cluster. This phenomenon, called gravitational lensing, occurs when foreground galaxies act as a magnifying glass for objects farther behind them.
Small boxes were used to locate galaxy MACS0647-JD, and more detailed images of the galaxy are lined up on the right side of the image. The cluster essentially triple-lenses the galaxy, magnifying it and making it appear in three distinct places in the image. Each box on the right shows different details of the galaxy.
Astronomer Dan Coe discovered MACS0647-JD 10 years ago using the Hubble Space Telescope. The new Webb image of the galaxy revealed a surprise – there are two distinct features.
“With Hubble it was just this faint red dot. We could tell it was really small, just a tiny galaxy in the first 400 million years of the universe,” said Coe, an astronomer at the Institute. of Space Telescope Science for the European Space Agency and the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, in a NASA statement.
“Now we’re looking with Webb, and we’re able to solve TWO objects! We are actively discussing whether these are two galaxies or two star clusters within a galaxy. We don’t know, but these are the questions Webb is designed to help us answer.
The two objects differ in color, one being more blue while the other is more red. The colors indicate different gases. While the blue object indicates the formation of young stars, the red object is dusty and older. Astronomers believe the two objects in the galaxy image may suggest a merger between two galaxies.
“It’s really interesting to see two structures in such a small system,” Tiger Yu-Yang Hsiao, a doctoral student at Johns Hopkins University, said in a statement. “We may be witnessing a merger of galaxies in the very early universe. If it’s the most distant merger, I’ll be so thrilled!”
The research team has written about the discovery of the potential fusion, but like most of Webb’s early observations since science operations began in July, the findings have yet to go through the peer review process. pairs. The team is also planning a more detailed study of MACS0647-JD in January.
Each Webb observation reveals previously hidden and unseen aspects of the universe, as the telescope has the ability to spy faint infrared light through thick interstellar dust. Astronomers are excited about the telescope’s discovery potential because the observatory only began its estimated 20-year mission a few months ago.
“Until now, we haven’t really been able to study the galaxies of the early universe in detail. We only had dozens before Webb,” Rebecca Larson, a National Science Foundation fellow and doctoral student at the University of Texas at Austin, said in a statement. “Studying them can help us understand how they evolved into those like the galaxy we live in today. And also, how the universe has evolved over time.
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