A new image from the Webb Space Telescope shows light bending in the distant universe. Physicists are debating whether the result indicates a galactic merger, the farthest on record.
We continue to be amazed by the sensational data the James Webb Space Telescope is gathering. The observatory, which has been online for only a few months, has already helped us redefine everything we know about the cosmos. Not only has it captured extraordinary photographs of the universe, but it also helped us understand it better. Now, the space telescope continues to deliver.
A new image from the Webb Space Telescope shows light bending in the distant universe. Physicists are debating whether the result indicates a galactic merger, the farthest on record. A galaxy cluster’s gravity enabled Webb to peer into a galaxy far off in the distance with its enormous mirror. However, preliminary studies suggest the telescope may be seeing two galaxies rather than one. NASA released a statement in which astronomer Dan Coe, instrument scientist for the Webb near-infrared camera, said astronomers are discussing whether these are two galaxies or two groups of stars within one galaxy. “We don’t know, but Webb is designed to help us find out,” he explained. According to Coe, Hubble observed the object, named MACS0647-JD, as a “pale red dot” formed just 400 million years after the Big Bang.
A mystery in the early universe
A mystery remains about what Webb is seeing, even though the new telescope revealed two objects instead of one. Currently, this finding is under initial discussion and has not been peer-reviewed. Another intriguing possibility is that two galaxies were merging in the early universe if Webb saw two galaxies. The possibility of this being the farthest merger is really exciting to me,” said Yu-Yang Hsiao, a graduate student at John Hopkins University. Webb evidently sees a clear difference between the two sets of objects: One set is bluer with many stars, while the other is redder with many dust particles. Although gravitational lensing has long been used in astronomy, Webb’s use of its sensitive instruments will enable it to uncover new insights using massive objects’ ability to bend light.
Space.com reports that Webb has been designed to observe infrared wavelengths of the early universe, which is receding rapidly from us. According to Rebecca Larson, a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin, the expected 20 years of Webb observations will greatly increase the number of early galaxies we know about. Having a deeper understanding of them can help us better understand how galaxies, and the universe, evolved through the ages,” Larson said. Webb will be able to create “deep fields” from a single point in the sky, as Hubble did several times, which will allow for the discovery of even more early universe objects.