June 25, 2024

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NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope spotted a question mark in space

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope spotted a question mark in space

NASA, what is this?
NASA, European Space Agency, and Canadian Space Agency. Image processing: Joseph DiPasquale (STScI)

The James Webb Space Telescope was doing its usual business — peering at objects of scientific interest across the universe — when it accidentally picked up something hilariously familiar in the distant universe.

Is this a giant question mark?

???
NASA, European Space Agency, and Canadian Space Agency. Image processing: Joseph DiPasquale (STScI)

It sure looks the same. Is the universe trying to tell us something? Or ask us something? Or is she just laughing at us?

In fact, scientists think this could be a pair of galaxies merging together. They just happen to make a question mark shape, as seen from a web’s perspective.

“Their interactions may have caused a distorted question mark to form,” said representatives from the Institute of Space Communication Sciences Tell Space.com.

What do you play on the James Webb Space Telescope?
NASA GSFC/CIL/Adriana Manrique Gutierrez; from the inside

“This may be the first time we’ve seen this particular object,” STScI said. “Additional follow-up will be required to know for sure what it is.”

It may also be a single oddly shaped galaxy, but the merger sounds like a good explanation for Matt Kaplan, associate professor of physics at Illinois State University.

After all, galaxies collide and merge all the time.

A pair of merging galaxies has been captured by Webb.
ESA/Webb, NASA & CSA, L. Armus, A. Evans

“Two distinct features could be the merging of background galaxies with ease, with the top of the question mark being part of a larger galaxy undergoing tidal disturbance,” Kaplan told Space.com. “Given the color of some of the other background galaxies, this doesn’t seem like the worst explanation. Despite the chaos of the mergers, double-lobed objects with squiggly tails extending away from them are very typical.”

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The bigger picture

Webb wasn’t looking for a question mark. Here is the larger image captured by the telescope:

The full image shows what Webb was looking at in the first place: a pair of active stars, called Herbig-Haro 46/47.
NASA, European Space Agency, and Canadian Space Agency. Image processing: Joseph DiPasquale (STScI)

beautiful is not it? NASA released this image on July 26, saying in a statement It shows the “antics” of two young stars who are still in the making.

“Look for them in the center of the red diffraction spikes,” NASA wrote in the statement. “The stars are deeply buried, appearing as an orange-white spot.”

The pair of stars, known as Herbig-Haro 46/47, are growing as they feed off the gas and dust that surrounds them in a disk. The disk itself is not visible, but its shadow appears in two dark, cone-shaped regions next to the stars.

The pinkish-orange lobes that dominate the image are material that stars have been releasing as they grew over thousands of years.

NASA added that the pair of stars is “an important object to study because it is relatively young—only a few thousand years old. Star systems take millions of years to fully form. Targets like these give researchers insight into how much mass stars collect over time, allowing It allows them to model how our sun, which is a low-mass star, formed.”