Webb Telescope Captures Cosmic Clash of the galaxy NGC 3256

NGC 3256. Credit: ESA/Webb, NASA & CSA, L. Armus, A. Evans

July 03, 2023 - Witness the aftermath of a colossal cosmic collision as the James Webb Space Telescope unveils a captivating image of the peculiar galaxy NGC 3256. Learn how this image sheds light on the mysteries of galactic evolution and star formation. The NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope has once again dazzled us with its extraordinary capabilities, this time capturing a breathtaking image of the peculiar galaxy NGC 3256. Situated approximately 120 million light-years away in the Vela constellation, this Milky Way-sized galaxy showcases the aftermath of an ancient cosmic clash. The James Webb Space Telescope's cutting-edge instruments allow us to delve into the turbulent past of NGC 3256, revealing remarkable details and shedding light on the captivating phenomena of galactic evolution and star formation.

The Remnants of a Titanic Cosmic Encounter

NGC 3256, despite its tranquil appearance with tightly entwined spiral arms and a hazy cloud of light, reveals a history marked by an immense celestial collision. Astronomers estimate that around 500 million years ago, two equally massive spiral galaxies collided head-on, resulting in the distorted wreckage we witness today. The image showcases the extensive tendrils of shining dust and stars extending outward from the main body of the galaxy, providing a vivid glimpse into NGC 3256's tumultuous past.

The vibrant red and orange regions scattered across the galaxy indicate the presence of young stars formed during the merger. These stars irradiate small dust grains, emitting infrared light that is exquisitely captured by Webb's instruments. Furthermore, the image reveals extended tidal features, which primarily consist of stars that were pulled out of the galaxies during the collision.

Unveiling the Reality of Galactic Collisions

Contrary to popular imagination, the collision of galaxies does not involve stars catastrophically colliding with one another. The vast distances between stars in a galaxy result in a more subtle interaction. When galaxies collide, their clouds of stars pass through one another, mingling like two clouds of smoke. However, the gas and dust within colliding galaxies do interact, producing awe-inspiring outcomes. The collision that shaped NGC 3256 triggered a luminous burst of star formation, visible in the brightest regions of the image. These newly formed stars radiate most prominently at infrared wavelengths, allowing their light to penetrate the obscuring dust within the galaxy.

Understanding Galactic Evolution and Star Formation

This remarkable observation of NGC 3256 forms part of a series of studies aiming to unravel the physics of star formation and black hole growth in nearby merging galaxies. The data collected by the James Webb Space Telescope will contribute to transforming astronomers' understanding of galactic evolution. By analyzing a selection of luminous infrared galaxies like NGC 3256, the astronomical community aims to decode the complex histories of nearby star-forming galaxies.

James Webb Space Telescope's Instrumentation

The stunning image of NGC 3256 is the result of data collected by Webb's Near-InfraRed Camera and Mid-InfraRed Instrument. These instruments capture the galaxy in unprecedented detail at infrared wavelengths. Previous observations of NGC 3256 with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope provided insights at visible wavelengths, allowing for a fascinating side-by-side comparison of Hubble and Webb observations using the slider tool.

Thanks to the remarkable capabilities of the James Webb Space Telescope, we can marvel at the cosmic aftermath of the titanic collision that shaped NGC 3256. This captivating image not only reveals the remnants of an ancient celestial clash but also offers crucial insights into the mysteries of galactic evolution and star formation. By studying luminous infrared galaxies like NGC 3256, astronomers hope to unlock the complex histories of nearby star-forming galaxies, revolutionizing our understanding of the universe.

Source - ESA