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Space and PhysicsAstronomy

JWST Sees The Sparkle Of Newborn Stars In Distant Galaxy Merger

The space observatory's view of galaxy IC 1623 is dazzling in an image processed by citizen science.

author

Dr. Alfredo Carpineti

Senior Staff Writer & Space Correspondent

clockAug 4 2022, 14:53 UTC
JWST Image of IC 1623. Image Credit: NASA / ESA / CSA / Dr. Lee Armus (PI) / Kevin M. Gill
JWST Image of IC 1623. Image Credit: NASA / ESA / CSA / Dr. Lee Armus (PI) / Kevin M. Gill

JWST is our latest eye on the cosmos and we can’t get enough of the incredible observations it is delivering. From Jupiter to the very edge of the known universe, astronomers are keeping JWST busy. Among the latest observations, the telescope studied galaxy IC 1623 (also known as VV 114 and Arp 236) and the processed image is just too beautiful.

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Not just a pretty face, though, the galaxy captured – located 300 million light-years from Earth – is a merger. It was once two completely separate objects but fate brought them together in a chaotic fashion, sparking newborn stars. 

In the Hubble image below, which focused mostly on visible light, the two objects are hardly distinguishable. The merge is in its later stages. Some of the original features remain, such as portions of the spiral arms, but the gravitational forces between the two objects will melt those vestiges away, creating a new galaxy with a new shape.

Hubble view of IC 1623. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration and A. Evans (University of Virginia, Charlottesville/NRAO/Stony Brook University)
Hubble view of IC 1623. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration and A. Evans (University of Virginia, Charlottesville/NRAO/Stony Brook University)


But the new JWST observations, processed by citizen scientist Kevin Gill, clearly show that the story, while ending, is far from over. 

Not only are the central regions of each galaxy, with their supermassive black holes, still clearly visible but the effect of the merger is suddenly plain to see. The gravitational pull between the two galaxies is creating new stars. These pockets of star formation shine brightly in infrared light detected by JWST. In infrared, it shines with the light of over 1 trillion Suns.

JWST Image of IC 1623. Image Credit: NASA / ESA / CSA / Dr. Lee Armus (PI) / Kevin M. Gill
JWST Image of IC 1623. Image Credit: NASA / ESA / CSA / Dr. Lee Armus (PI) / Kevin M. Gill


Mergers can also increase the activity of supermassive black holes as fresh gas reaches them in messy collisions. This doesn’t seem to be the case for either of the two supermassive black holes likely to reside in IC1623. It could still be too early in the merger for any major activity to start around the black holes or the objects are severely obscured and we can't see them.


Space and PhysicsAstronomy
  • JWST,

  • Astronomy