Largest James Webb image sheds new light on Stephan’s Quintet galaxy group
After yesterday's sneak peek of things to come, a host of new images from NASA's James Webb Telescope are pouring in. The largest of them reveals "never-before-seen" details of a galaxy group known as Stephan's Quintet.
Depicting the manner in which interacting galaxies trigger star formation in one other, and how gas in galaxies is being disturbed, the composite image contains almost 150 million pixels and is made up of nearly 1,000 separate image files.
Among the features captured are "sparkling clusters" of millions of young stars, "sweeping tails of gas dust and stars" being pulled from several galaxies due to gravitational interactions, and even huge shock waves caused by one of the galaxies smashing through the cluster.
While Stephan’s Quintet does indeed include five galaxies, only four of them are relatively close together. The outlier, called NGC 7320, is much closer to Earth than the others, sitting 40 million light years away from our planet. It is therefore in the foreground of the image, with the other four – NGC 7317, NGC 7318A, NGC 7318B, and NGC 7319 – located behind it, at a distance of about 290 million light years from Earth.
Because 7320 is the closest of the bunch, the telescope's Near-Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec) and Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) were able to make out individual stars, along with the bright core of the galaxy. And as an added bonus, a "vast sea of thousands of distant background galaxies" can be seen in the background.
It is believed that such tightly-spaced groups of galaxies may have been more common in the early universe, at which time their superheated infalling material might have fuelled very energetic black holes known as quasars.