The James Webb Space Telescope has captured a beautiful image of a dramatic cosmic event: the collision of two galaxies. The two spiral galaxies are in the process of merging, and they shine in the infrared wavelength James Webb works in, shimmering with the light of more than a trillion suns.
It’s not uncommon for two (or more) galaxies to collide and merge, but the two galaxies shown in this image are emitting particularly bright infrared light. The pair has a combined name, Arp 220, as they appear as a single object when viewed from Earth. Known as the Ultra Luminous Infrared Galaxy (ULIRG), Arp 220 is much brighter than a typical spiral galaxy like our Milky Way.
A bright beacon amidst a sea of galaxies, Arp 220 shines across the night sky in this view from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. In fact, two spiral galaxies in the process of merging, Arp 220 shines most brightly in infrared light, making it an ideal target for Webb. It is an ultra-bright infrared galaxy (ULIRG) with a luminosity of more than a trillion suns. By comparison, our own Milky Way galaxy has a much more modest luminosity than that of about 10 billion suns. Image: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI Image Processing: Alyssa Pagan (STScI)
Arp 220 is 250 million light-years away, but its brilliant brightness meant Webb was able to capture the object using its Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and Medium Infrared Instruments (MIRI). By combining data from these two instruments, scientists can see the object in both near-infrared and mid-infrared wavelengths.
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