The dance of merged galaxies captured in a new Webb Telescope image

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The beautiful mess of two merging galaxies shine bright in the latest image captured by the James Webb Space Telescope.

Vice President Kamala Harris and French President Emmanuel Macron viewed the new image of Webb, as well as a new composite of the Pillars of Creation captured by the Space Observatory, during a visit to NASA Headquarters in Washington on Wednesday.

The Webb Telescope, designed to monitor galaxies far, far away and other worlds, is an international mission between NASA and its partners, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

The pair of galaxies, known as II ZW 96, lie 500 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Delphinus. The points of light in the background of the image represent other, more distant galaxies.

The swirling shape of the two galaxies was created when they began to merge, disrupting their individual shapes. Galaxy mergers occur when two or more galaxies collide in space.

Bright regions where stars are born shine in the center of the image, while the spiral arms of the lower galaxy are twisted by the gravity of the merger.

Stars form when clouds of gas and dust collapse within galaxies. When galaxies merge, more star formation is triggered — and astronomers want to know why.

Bright regions of star birth are of interest to Webb astronomers because they appear brighter when viewed in infrared light.

While infrared is invisible to the human eye, Webb’s abilities allow him to spy on previously unseen aspects of the universe.

A near infrared webcam and a medium infrared instrument were used to capture the new image.

Astronomers use the observatory to study the evolution of galaxies and, among other topics, why bright infrared galaxies like II ZW 96 glow so brightly in infrared light, reaching luminosities more than 100 billion times that of our sun.

Researchers turned Webb’s instruments to merged galaxies, including II ZW 96, to pinpoint fine details and compare images with those taken previously by ground-based telescopes and the Hubble Space Telescope. Together, the observations can reveal a fuller picture of how galaxies have changed over time.

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