JWST Sees Merging Galaxies Releasing the Light of a Trillion Suns

ARP 220 is a pair of merging galaxies about 250 million light years away. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Alyssa Pagan (STScI)

If we want to know what it’ll look like in about 4.5 billion years when our galaxy merges with Andromeda, we might take a look at ARP 220. ARP 220 is a pair of galaxies that are in the process of merging. The merging galaxies emit brilliant infrared light, and the James Webb Space Telescope captured that light in a vivid portrait.

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Beautiful New Hubble Photo Shows Hot, Young Variable Stars in the Orion Nebula

The bright variable star V 372 Orionis takes centre stage in this image from the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, J. Bally, M. Robberto.

Here’s another striking image from the venerable Hubble Space Telescope. These billows of blue and red show a detailed look at a small portion of the famous Orion Nebula. But what really catches the eye are the brilliant stars with the cross-shaped diffraction spikes — a hallmark of Hubble images.

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Astronomers Pin Down the Age of the Most Distant Galaxy: Seen 367 Million Years After the Big Bang

The radio telescope array ALMA has pin-pointed the exact cosmic age of a distant JWST-identified galaxy, GHZ2/GLASS-z12, at 367 million years after the Big Bang. Image Credit: NASA / ESA / CSA / T. Treu, UCLA / NAOJ / T. Bakx, Nagoya U. Licence type Attribution (CC BY 4.0)

Staring off into the ancient past with a $10 billion space telescope, hoping to find extraordinarily faint signals from the earliest galaxies, might seem like a forlorn task. But it’s only forlorn if we don’t find any. Now that the James Webb Space Telescope has found those signals, the exercise has moved from forlorn to hopeful.

But only if astronomers can confirm the signals.

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JWST Sees Frozen Water, Ammonia, Methane and Other Ices in a Protostellar Nebula

A large, dark cloud is contained within the frame. In its top half it is textured like smoke and has wispy gaps, while at the bottom and at the sides it fades gradually out of view. On the left are several orange stars: three each with six large spikes, and one behind the cloud which colours it pale blue and orange. Many tiny stars are visible, and the background is black.
This image by the James Webb Space Telescope’s Near-InfraRed Camera (NIRCam) features the central region of the Chameleon I dark molecular cloud, which resides 630 light years away. Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and M. Zamani (ESA/Webb); Science: M. K. McClure (Leiden Observatory), F. Sun (Steward Observatory), Z. Smith (Open University), and the Ice Age ERS Team.

Want to build a habitable planet? Then you’ll need various and sundry ingredients such as carbon, hydrogen oxygen, nitrogen and sulfur. The James Webb Space Telescope has found the building blocks for these key ingredients in the colds depths of a distant protostellar nebula called the Chameleon I molecular cloud. Scientists say the discovery of these proto-ingredients allows astronomers to examine the simple icy molecules that one day will be incorporated into future exoplanets.

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For the First Time, Astronomers Spot Stars in Galaxies that Existed Just 1 Billion Years After the Big Bang

Artist impression of a powerful young quasar. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

Since it launched on December 25th, 2021 (quite the Christmas present!), the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has taken the sharpest and most detailed images of the Universe, surpassing even its predecessor, the venerable Hubble Space Telescope! But what is especially exciting are the kinds of observations we can look forward to, where the JWST will use its advanced capabilities to address some of the most pressing cosmological mysteries. For instance, there’s the problem presented by high-redshift supermassive black holes (SMBHs) or brightly-shining quasars that existed during the first billion years of the Universe.

To date, astronomers have not been able to determine how SMBHs could have formed so soon after the Big Bang. Part of the problem has been that, until recently, stars in host galaxies with redshift values of Z>2 (within 10.324 billion light-years) have been elusive. But thanks to the JWST, an international team of astronomers recently observed stars in quasars at Z>6 (within 12.716 billion light-years) for the first time. Their observations could finally allow astronomers to assess the processes in early quasars that governed the formation and evolution of the first SMBHs.

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The Webb Image you’ve Been Waiting For: the Orion Nebula

Orion Nebula by JWST
The inner region of the Orion Nebula as seen by the James Webb Space Telescope’s NIRCam instrument. Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, PDRs4All ERS Team; image processing Salomé Fuenmayor

This is it, folks. Feast your eyes! It’s what we’ve been training for—seeing the James Webb Space Telescope’s first detailed view of the Orion Nebula! JWST’s NIRCam gazed at this starbirth nursery and revealed incredible details hidden from view by gas and dust clouds.

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Astronomers List 88 Distant Galaxies They Want to Look at With JWST. Some Are Less Than 200 Million Years Old.

SMACS cluster from JWST shows evidence of dark matter
The galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 as seen by NIRCam on JWST. It's gravitational lensing properties (from its mass and from the mass of dark matter) are helping astronomers identify 88 distant galaxies in this field of view for further study. Courtesy NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI

Way back in the earliest ages of the universe, the first galaxies were born. Astronomers want to know more about them. They’re especially interested to know exactly when these distant galaxies formed and what their stars were like. Now that JWST is a working observatory, astronomers are excited to use its data to explore those early epochs. They’re eager to see the most distant objects, and—as seems likely—do a rejiggering of the cosmic timeline after the Big Bang.

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JWST Turns Its Gaze on the Cartwheel Galaxy

Cartwheel Galaxy
This image of the Cartwheel and its companion galaxies is a composite from Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI). Courtesy NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI.

The Cartwheel Galaxy, also known as ESO 350-40, is one disturbed-looking piece of cosmic real estate. To look at it now, especially in the latest JWST view, you’d never know it used to be a gorgeous spiral galaxy. That was before it got involved in a head-on collision with a companion. The encounter happened somewhere around 200-300 million years ago. Essentially, the smaller galaxy “bulls-eyed” the Cartwheel, right through its heart. A shock wave swept through the system, changing everything. The aftermath is what we see in this latest image from JWST.

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JWST Sees the Most Distant Galaxy Ever, Just 300 Million Years After the Big Bang

galaxies from JWST

By now, almost everyone has seen the first-release images from JWST and marveled at these amazing views of the infrared universe the telescope was launched to explore. The view of SMACS 0723 seen above illustrates the promise JWST holds. While there are many more early-release images in the observation pipeline, we’re starting to see the first research papers come out. As expected, studies of distant galaxies are grabbing headlines already.

Wow, are these findings amazing! In the last couple of days, websites and social media have been alive with images of a blob that, in reality, is one of the oldest (earliest) galaxies ever seen. It’s one of two—GL-z11 and GL-z13—that show us what they looked like when the Universe was extremely young, about 300 million years after the Big Bang. When confirmed, they’ll mark a milestone in studies of the infant Universe.

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Webb Has Almost Reached its Final, Coldest Temperature

Image: James Webb Space Telescope
NASA's James Webb Telescope, shown in this artist's conception, will provide more information about previously detected exoplanets. Beyond 2020, many more next-generation space telescopes are expected to build on what it discovers. Credit: NASA

 

Launched on December 25, 2021 from ESA’s launch site in Kourou, French Guiana aboard an Ariane 5 rocket, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) reached its final orbit at the L2 Lagrange point on January 24, 2022. It has since performed several operations to get it ready for its observing mission which should begin in about a month.

As part of getting it ready for its mission, NASA has been cooling off its instruments, such as the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI), to operating temperatures. Now that they have reached that point, all that’s left to cool down are the mirrors.

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