James Webb Space Telescope captures chaotic cosmic collision

The James Webb Space Telescope has captured a pair of galaxies distorting each other as they merge into a grand galactic crowd.

The ongoing cosmic collision captured by Webb is known as II ZW 96. It is about 500 million light-years from Earth, in the constellation Dolphin, according to a November 30 NASA statement. (will open in a new tab).

The image was created by Webb using his advanced NIRCam (near infrared camera) and MIRI (mid infrared instrument) payloads on II ZW 96 and details how the shape of both galaxies is distorted by their respective gravitational pulls.

Related: NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope: The Complete Guide

Webb captured this merging pair of galaxies, known to astronomers as II ZW 96, with a pair of his cutting-edge instruments, the NIRCam (Near Infrared Camera) and MIRI (Mid Infrared Instrument). (Image credit: ESA/Webb, NASA & CSA, L. Armus, A. Evans)

NASA scientists note that the spiral arms of the lower galaxy are curved, and the bright cores of both galaxies are connected by very bright outgrowths of star forming regions, which made II ZW 96 such a tempting target for Webb.

The observation is part of Webb’s wider effort to study the evolution of galaxies, with a particular focus on nearby so-called glowing infrared galaxies. These galaxies, exemplified by II ZW 96, are particularly bright in the infrared, with over 100 billion times the solar luminosity, according to NASA.

The merging galaxy system II ZW 96 is well known to astronomers and has been observed before. (will open in a new tab) the Hubble Space Telescope and ground-based telescopes.

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