The James Webb Space Telescope detects question mark shape in deep space, which is an image of Herbig-Haro 46/47, a duo of emerging stars in the process of formation. This stunning composite reveals an expansive scene filled with intricate features, even showcasing a cosmic symbol resembling a question mark.
Recent assessments by scientists suggest that the observed phenomenon might involve the merging of two galaxies. "Their interactions may have caused the distorted question-mark shape," representatives of the Space Telescope Science Institute told Space.com.
"This may be the first time we've seen this particular object," the STScI said. "Additional follow-up would be required to figure out what it is with any certainty."
Considering the observations, a potential interpretation is that this structure might represent a singular galaxy with an unconventional shape. However, Matt Caplan, an assistant professor of physics at Illinois State University, leans towards the idea of a merger as a plausible explanation. This perspective aligns with the fact that galaxy collisions and mergers are frequent occurrences in the cosmic landscape.
"The two distinct features could easily be merging galaxies in the background, with the upper part of the question mark being part of a larger galaxy getting tidally disrupted," Caplan said. "Given the color of some of the other background galaxies, this doesn't seem like the worst explanation. Despite how chaotic mergers are, double-lobed objects with curvy tails extending away from them are very typical."
The bigger picture showing what the question mark is
The James Webb Space Telescope wasn't specifically seeking out a question mark formation. The image presented above offers a broader context captured by the telescope. Released by NASA on July 26, this image depicts the dynamic processes of two emerging stars in the midst of active formation, characterized as their "antics."
Look for them at the center of the red diffraction spikes. The stars are buried deeply, appearing as an orange-white splotch.- NASA
The star duo exhibited growth by drawing nourishment from the enveloping gas and dust within a disk. Although the disk itself remained unseen, its presence manifested through the shadows cast in two cone-shaped regions adjacent to the stars.
The focal points of the image were the pink-orange lobes, which symbolized the material expelled by the stars during their gradual development spanning thousands of years.
The question mark-shaped object is probably a pair of distant galaxies in the background which are merging. As they approach and interact, the shape of each galaxy can be distorted, including by ripping out long streamers of stars and gas.- Dr. Christopher T. Britt, an Education and Outreach Scientist at STScI’s Office of Public Outreach
The red hue of the question mark formation suggests a considerable distance for the merging galaxies. Nevertheless, instances of merging galaxies exist in closer proximity to Earth as well. Notably, our own Milky Way Galaxy is currently undergoing a merger with a neighboring galaxy.
"We’re going to merge with our nearest large neighbor, the Andromeda galaxy, in another four billion years or so," Britt says.
The impending head-on collision between the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies will lead to the creation of a novel singular elliptical galaxy. While this collision is expected to transpire, it is highly unlikely to cause any discernible impact on Earth, provided our planet endures for the next four billion years.
According to NASA, investigating this star pair holds significance due to its youthful age, being merely a few thousand years old. Considering that star systems typically require millions of years to reach maturity, such subjects provide researchers with valuable information regarding the accumulation of mass by stars over time. This knowledge could potentially facilitate the modeling of the formation process of stars like our own sun, which is categorized as a low-mass star.