As you lie on the grass and stare at the starry sky, a million questions are running through your brain. What’s out there? Are we alone? How does it all work in the universe? Lots of little question marks revolving around your head, like in a cartoon. And there’s even one up there in the sky! Yup, I’m being serious – James Webb Space Telescope recently captured a cosmic question mark. Quite appropriate, considering everything we still don’t know about space and even our own planet, don’t you think?
The bigger picture
The cosmic question mark is actually a part of a larger image. Webb recently captured the intricate dance of a pair of young stars, known as Herbig-Haro 46/47, through advanced near-infrared imaging.
If you follow the bright pink and red spikes inward, they’ll lead you to a distinct orange-white blot: this is where our stars are. What’s interesting is that they’re nestled deep within a thick blanket of gas and dust. This protective cocoon continually feeds them, allowing them to grow by accumulating more mass over time.
This photo is important on its own, as it plays a role at understanding ejections of gas and dust surrounding the stars. These ejections play a pivotal role in star formation, modulating the mass the stars will ultimately possess. ” The disk of gas and dust feeding the stars is small. Imagine a band tightly tied around the stars.)” NASA explains.
But when you zoom in on a photo, you realize that the space may be wondering about us as much as we’re wondering about it. Well, metaphorically speaking, of course. The cosmic question mark is around the middle-bottom part of the image, and scientists tried to explain what it is other than a curiosity (pun not intended).
So, what’s the cosmic question mark?
Scientists have analyzed an image and concluded that it shows a merging of a pair of galaxies. The perspective captured by Webb gives the event the appearance of a question mark.
“It’s probably a distant galaxy, or potentially interacting galaxies [whose] interactions may have caused the distorted question mark shape,” the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, which manages Webb’s science operations, told Space.com. “Additional follow-up would be required to figure out what it is with any certainty.”
There are many celestial events that remind us of things familiar to us here on Earth. Some examples include a bat, a horse, a butterfly, and a crab, to name just a few. But the institute said that could be the first time astronomers have seen a cosmic question mark.
[via Digital Trends; image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA. Image Processing: Joseph DePasquale (STScI)/post-processing inset image Daisy Dobrijevic]