James Webb shows the striking result of the collision of 2 galaxies 500 million years ago

July 5, 2023  16:05

A captivating image captured by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) serves as a stark reminder that appearances can be deceiving, especially when it comes to galaxies. The serene orange-red facade of this particular galaxy masks a violent history—a cataclysmic collision between two earlier galaxies that occurred approximately 500 million years ago.

Dubbed NGC 3256, this galaxy resides about 120 million light-years away from Earth and belongs to the Hydra-Centaurus Supercluster. Clues to its turbulent past are discreetly woven into the JWST image, with elongated tendrils of shimmering dust and stars extending outward from the galaxy's core and its brightest regions.

Studying these cosmic collisions provides valuable insights into how galaxies, including our own Milky Way, grow through mergers with other galaxies. Furthermore, investigating remnants like NGC 3256 can potentially unlock the mystery behind the remarkable growth of supermassive black holes at the centers of most galaxies, which can accumulate masses equivalent to millions or even billions of suns.

The momentous merger that birthed NGC 3256 also triggered a frenzied burst of star formation within the galaxy. When galaxies collide, they funnel gas and dust together, forming dense clouds that serve as the raw material for the creation of new stars.

Evident in the vivid orange-red glow of NGC 3256, the formation of young stars illuminates the galaxy's brightest regions. These youthful stars emit infrared light, which irradiates minuscule dust grains, causing the galaxy to radiate intensely and making it an ideal target for the JWST, designed specifically to observe the universe in infrared.

While most stellar bodies in colliding galaxies manage to evade the violent encounters relatively unharmed, the same cannot be said for the gas and dust content of these galaxies. Vast voids between stars facilitate their escape. However, some stars in the colliding galaxies are not so fortunate. The JWST image of NGC 3256 reveals intertwined threads of stars that were forcibly torn from their original galactic homes due to gravitational interactions and the resulting immense tidal forces.

This stunning visualization of NGC 3256 was crafted using data from the JWST's Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and Mid-InfraRed Instrument (MIRI). The image exemplifies the JWST's immense capabilities as the most powerful telescope ever deployed in Earth's orbit, enabling scientists to gain a deeper understanding of galaxy growth and the evolving nature of the universe. 

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