James Webb images two clashing galaxies birthing new stars

Cosmic destruction and stellar creation goes hand in hand in this stunning new image captured by the James Webb Space Telescope.
Chris Young
James Webb's image of IC 1623.
James Webb's image of IC 1623.

Source: ESA/Webb, NASA & CSA, L. Armus & A. Evans 

A new James Webb Space Telescope image shows a collision of two galaxies in incredible detail.

That dazzling destructive force creates a host of new stars, visible now like never before, thanks to James Webb's infrared imagers.

The two merging galaxies, referred to collectively as IC 1623, are producing stars at a rate 20 times faster than our own Milky Way galaxy, a press statement from the European Space Agency (ESA) explains.

James Webb's stunning new IC 1623 image

Other observatories, including the Hubble Space Telescope, have imaged the cosmic collision. However, James Webb, the most powerful space observatory launched to date, could use its infrared instruments to peer through enormous dust clouds and reveal previously unseen details.

James Webb has shown its impressive capacity for peering through space dust on numerous occasions now. The observatory's Near Infrared Camera, NIRCam, instrument played a vital role, for example, in the Carina nebula stellar nursery image released with James Webb's first set of scientific observations.

In the case of IC 1623, James Webb's MIRI and NIRCam instruments combined to reveal a luminous center emitting so much infrared light that the galaxy produces a refraction pattern typically seen when James Webb images a bright star. A new study detailing James Webb's latest image was published in the Astrophysical Journal.

James Webb images two clashing galaxies birthing new stars
Hubble's image of IC 1623 is also very impressive, but doesn't reveal nearly as much detail.

Comparing James Webb's observation of IC 1623 with an older Hubble image shows how the new image reveals a previously-hidden galaxy structure in the form of the red material present at the center of the merging galaxies.

The merging galaxies in the James Webb image are located approximately 270 million light-years away from Earth in the constellation Cetus. Astronomers believe the dramatic galactic collision might be forming a black hole at the merging galaxies' center, though they so far don't have any evidence.

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James Webb already building an impressive legacy

The $10-billion James Webb Space Telescope only started scientific operations back in July, and it is already showing its capacity for revealing impressive new details about our universe, including images of galaxies at a much further stage of maturation than expected given how far away — and therefore far back in time — they are. The massive space observatory launched on December 25, 2021, aboard a European Ariane 5 rocket.

James Webb also recently imaged the so-called Pillars of Creation. Those captures are another brilliant showcase of James Webb's ability to peer through dust clouds and image regions of space where new stars are born.

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