NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has captured a mesmerizing picture of a young star system known as Herbig-Haro 46/47, located about 1,470 light-years away. This system consists of two burgeoning stars, caught in a tight dance as they whirl around each other. But that’s not the only curiosity in this image.
If you look closely towards the bottom center of the remarkable infrared picture, you’ll notice a small celestial object that intriguingly resembles a question mark. It’s as if this mysterious symbol is confounded by its very existence. And fittingly enough, scientists are equally perplexed about what this glowing orange symbol might represent.
Thankfully, Space.com decided to consult some experts for a better understanding of this celestial curiosity.
Representatives of the Space Telescope Science Institute, which oversees the telescope’s scientific operations, speculated that the enigmatic symbol might be a distant or potentially interacting galaxy. The interactions between the galaxies might have led to the distorted question mark shape. Since it looks red in the observation, the Institute thinks it’s quite distant.
“This may be the first time we’ve seen this particular object,” the representatives explained. “Additional follow-up would be required to figure out what it is with any certainty. Webb is showing us many new, distant galaxies — so there’s a lot of new science to be done!”
Matt Caplan, an assistant professor of physics at Illinois State University, added his own theory. He believes it could be a merging of galaxies in the background, with the upper part of the question mark being a portion of a larger galaxy undergoing tidal disruption.
“Given the color of some of the other background galaxies, this doesn’t seem like the worst explanation,” Caplan noted. “Despite how chaotic mergers are, double-lobed objects with curvy tails extending away from them are very typical.”
So for now, this celestial question mark will remain just that—a big question mark in the sky. It’s a tantalizing mystery that continues to fascinate scientists, as they attempt to unravel what it could possibly be. Only time, and perhaps more detailed observations, may finally provide the answers to this intriguing cosmic puzzle.
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