A bright infrared light blazing from two galaxies in the process of merging has just been yanked out of hiding.
Using the JWST, astronomers have pinpointed the exact location of the light, behind a thick wall of dust obscuring it in other wavelengths. Whatever is producing the light is yet unknown, but narrowing down where it is will help figure out what it is, and how it shines so much more brightly than expected.
“The James Webb Space Telescope has brought us completely new views of the Universe thanks to it having the highest ever spatial resolution and sensitivity in the infrared,” says astrophysicist Hanae Inami of Hiroshima University’s Hiroshima Astrophysical Science Center in Japan.
“We wanted to find the ‘engine’ that powers this merging galaxy system. We knew that this source was deeply hidden by cosmic dust, so we could not use visible or ultraviolet light to find it. Only in the mid-infrared, observed with the James Webb Space Telescope, do we now see that this source outshines everything else in these merging galaxies.”
Although the Universe is mostly empty space, mergers between galaxies are not uncommon. Massive galaxies are drawn together by the inexorable pull of gravity, combining to form larger galaxies.
It’s not even some remote thing that only happens to other galaxies elsewhere: the Milky Way itself is a cosmic Frankenstein’s monster, partially made up of all the other galaxies it’s subsumed over its billions of years of life.
Many examples of galactic mergers at various stages have been found out there in the wider Universe, but it’s a slow process that can take millions to billions of years.
Scientists have to take the examples we have and reconstruct the timeline around them, like a single frame from a film, and the only other examples are single frames from similar, but different, films. It’s painstaking work, but it’s one of the best tools we have for understanding galaxy mergers.
By: Miss Cherry May Timbol – Independent Reporter