In a recent image from the James Webb Telescope, two famous stars have been blown away by a very cool object: a question mark in space. When you zoom in on the stars Herbig-Haro 46 and 47, you can see a red question mark-shaped object underneath them. A question mark raises questions. What are we looking at and how far is this object from Earth?
Two galaxies colliding
Question Mark may be billions of light-years from Earth, says Christopher Brett, a scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute. He believes that the question mark is not one thing, but two galaxies colliding.
This is something that happens often. Galaxies regularly collide with other galaxies. This also applies to our galaxy. The Milky Way will merge with the Adromeda Galaxy in about four billion years.
Why does Brett think it’s about two colliding galaxies? The answer to that lies in the form of a question mark. You can see two bright colored spots on it. These will be the centers of the two converging galaxies. The curvature of the question mark is the “tail” that results when two galaxies spiral toward each other.
The room is full of question marks
“Very nice, this question mark, but if you look closely, you can also find the colon, semicolon and other punctuation marks in satellite images,” says David Helfand, an astronomer at Columbia University (USA). In every satellite image, you see ten thousand tiny spots of light in which our brain recognizes known patterns. Like a question mark or semicolon.
So it’s not the first time a question mark has been spotted in space. In 2008, the Hubble Space Telescope also found two merged galaxies in the shape of a question mark. Only then was the body tilted ninety degrees.
Two colliding galaxies are the most likely explanation for the recently photographed question mark. But it could also be something completely different. Perhaps they are two completely different objects, one closer to Earth than the other.
To determine the distance of an object in space, color is taken into account, among other things. The fact that the question mark is red means that it is several light years away from Earth. But color isn’t everything, Brett warns. The object closest to us can also be red, for example when there is a lot of dust floating around it.
What is really the question mark in the picture? This question remains unanswered at the moment. More research is needed for this, but it remains to be seen if NASA will do so. The James Webb telescope discovers so many interesting things in space that there is no time to zoom in on every question mark.
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