Webb Watches Closely As These Galaxies Collide
James Webb Space Telescope watches as a pair of galaxies collide. They are collectively known as II ZW 96.
A merging galaxy pair cavort in this image captured by the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope. This pair of galaxies, known to astronomers as II ZW 96, is roughly 500 million light-years from Earth and lies in the constellation Delphinus, close to the celestial equator. As well as the wild swirl of the merging galaxies, a menagerie of background galaxies are dotted throughout the image.
The two galaxies are in the process of merging and as a result have a chaotic, disturbed shape. The bright cores of the two galaxies are connected by bright tendrils of star-forming regions, and the spiral arms of the lower galaxy have been twisted out of shape by the gravitational perturbation of the galaxy merger. It is these star-forming regions that made II ZW 96 such a tempting target for Webb; the galaxy pair is particularly bright at infrared wavelengths thanks to the presence of the star formation.
This observation is from a collection of Webb measurements delving into the details of galactic evolution, in particular in nearby Luminous Infrared Galaxies such as II ZW 96. These galaxies, as the name suggests, are particularly bright at infrared wavelengths, with luminosities more than 100 billion times that of the Sun. An international team of astronomers proposed a study of complex galactic ecosystems — including the merging galaxies in II ZW 96 — to put Webb through its paces soon after the telescope was commissioned. Their chosen targets have already been observed with ground-based telescopes and the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, which will provide astronomers with insights into Webb’s ability to unravel the details of complex galactic environments.
Webb captured this merging galaxy pair with a pair of its cutting-edge instruments; NIRCam — the Near-InfraRed Camera — and MIRI, the Mid-InfraRed Instrument. If you are interested in exploring the differences between Hubble and Webb’s observations of II ZW 96, you can do so here.
MIRI was contributed by ESA and NASA, with the instrument designed and built by a consortium of nationally funded European Institutes (The MIRI European Consortium) in partnership with JPL and the University of Arizona. The University of Arizona also provided the NIRCam instrument.
This is a system of merging galaxies with a bizarre shape. Powerful young starburst regions hang as long threadlike structures between the main galaxy cores. The system almost qualifies as an ultraluminous system, but has not yet reached the late stage of coalescence that is the norm for most ultraluminous systems. Zw II 96 is located in the constellation of Delphinus, the Dolphin, about 500 million light-years away from Earth.
This image is part of a large collection of 59 images of merging galaxies taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and released on the occasion of its 18th anniversary on 24th April 2008.
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