Galaxies throughout the universe collide and merge all the time. Even our own Milky Way will one day merge with Andromeda long after we’re gone. Despite the sometimes adverse consequences these mergers can bring, they’re also gorgeous, as showcased in a recent Webb image capturing the merger ARP 220.
The new image, captured by the James Webb space telescope and shared earlier this month, showcases what astronomers call an ultra-luminous infrared galaxy (ULIRG). Known as ARP 220, this galactic merger is currently shining with the light of a trillion suns.
If you want a little reference to go with just how bright that is, our own Milky Way galaxy currently shines at a luminosity of just 10 billion suns, making the merger of ARP 220 that Webb imaged much, much brighter.
The merger is located over 250 million light-years away, and according to Webb scientists, it most likely began some 700 million years ago, sparking an outrageous burst of star formation. In Webb’s image of ARP 220 we can see dense gas, including a region that is 5,000 light-year across, where over 200 colossal star clusters reside.
The caption featured with the image says that the amount of gas in that small region of space is equal to all of the gas found within our galaxy. So, not only is it brighter, but it’s also much gassier. Prior observations of the merger have also shown the remnants of over 100 supernovas in an area that measures less than 500 light-years across.
The galactic merger ARP 220 is more than just a pretty scene in the stars, though there is no denying how beautiful it looks in Webb’s image of the merger. This merger will undoubtedly provide researchers with helpful information about these galactic evolutions.
The image was captured using data from Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera and its Mid-Infrared Instrument. Webb’s discoveries continue to challenge what we know about the universe and how it evolved.