One of the most impressive images made by powerful NASA The James Webb Space Telescope belongs to Stephan’s Quintet, a group of five galaxies about 290 million light-years away. While the first pristine snapshot released last year was impressive, the Webb team is also working with other telescopes to uncover new insights about the group—including shock waves. extremely large caused by collisions between galaxies.
Astronomers using observations from Webb together with the Atacama Large Millimeter/sublime Array (ALMA) have detected a supersonic outburst many times larger than the Milky Way, caused by the collisions of galaxies. galaxy in Stephan’s Quintet. The findings, presented at a press conference by the American Astronomical Society on January 9, revealed insights into the gas clouds in Stephan’s Quartet along with potential formation. of a new galaxy.
At the center of the observation is a galaxy called NGC 7318b—which is in the process of colliding with its sister galaxy, NGC 7318a. However, NGC 7318b is also colliding with the remains of Stephan’s Quintet, creating a major disruption to the surrounding hydrogen gas clouds.
“As this intruder rammed into the group, it collided with an old gas stream that was likely caused by a previous interaction between two of the other galaxies and was creating a massive shock wave.” Philip Appleton, astronomer at Caltech’s Infrared Center for Processing and Analysis and the project’s principal investigator, said in a statement.
He explained that the shock wave creates a “very turbulent” layer, leading to the formation of an “unexpected structure” as well as the recycling of molecular hydrogen gas. This gas could be used to form stars and eventually more galaxies.
However, Appleton also adds that the team still does not fully understand the science and data behind the gas cycles. More research is needed to figure out its underlying mechanism and implications.
Fortunately, astronomers are more prepared than ever. Now that Webb is in orbit and paired with powerful radio telescopes like ALMA, researchers are equipped with the best tools in history to study distant phenomena occurring. in places like Stephan’s Quartet. The team now plans to use spectroscopic telescope arrays to study the group’s X-ray signatures—thus providing more insight into the mysterious, chaotic object.
“These new observations gave us some answers, but ultimately showed us how much we didn’t know,” Appleton said. Then he added, “We basically had one side of the story. Now is the time to get another one.