New images of gas in motion around "an extremely red quasar" are observed with the James Webb Space Telescope. NASA released these images Thursday along with a report explaining that at least three galaxies are merging near a supermassive blackhole. Photo courtesy of NASA/ESA
Oct. 20 (UPI) -- An international team of scientists discovered the merging of galaxies using images captured by the James Webb Space Telescope, NASA reported Thursday.
The telescope has captured numerous jaw-dropping images since its deployment in last December. According to research published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, one of the latest images reveals galaxies in transition.
A cluster of at least three galaxies swirl around a red quasar -- a bright, galactic nucleus powered by a supermassive blackhole. The report from NASA said this new revelation will "expand our understanding of how galaxy clusters in the early universe came together and formed the cosmic web we see today."
"With previous images, we thought we saw hints that the galaxy was possibly interacting with other galaxies on the path to merger because their shapes get distorted in the process and we thought we maybe saw that," said co-principal investigator Nadia L. Zakamska, a Johns Hopkins astrophysicist and one of the founders of the project. "But after we got the Webb data, I was like, 'I have no idea what we're even looking at here, what is all this stuff!' We spent several weeks just staring and staring at these images."
Zakamska called the blackhole a "monster." NASA said it is one of the most powerful "known galactic nuclei that's been seen at such an extreme distance." It is estimated to be 11.5 billion years old.
Andrey Vayner, a co-author of the study and graduate student who studies the evolution of galaxies, reviewed the data when it arrived.
"We think something dramatic is about to happen in these systems," said co-author Andrey Vayner, a Johns Hopkins postdoctoral fellow who studies the evolution of galaxies. "The galaxy is at this perfect moment in its lifetime, about to transform and look entirely different in a few billion years."
The NASA/European Space Agency Hubble Space Telescope previously observed this region of space and found some evidence of a galaxy evolving. It was not until the clear, crisp images from the James Webb telescope revealed a better look that researchers recognized multiple galaxies in that area.
The James Webb Space Telescope program is a collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency. Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory plays a leading role in the program's research team.
NASA's James Webb Space Telescope captures a fiery hourglass of light. This cloud of dust and gas is illuminated by light from a protostar, a star in the earliest stages of formation. Photo courtesy of NASA