It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a ???
Over the past week, a high-resolution image of two young orbiting stars captured by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has grabbed the attention of astronomical enthusiasts and punctuation aficionados alike for what appears to look like a galactic question mark.
The photo, originally taken in May and released in late June, gives viewers a detailed look at some of the fantastic cosmic phenomena happening light-years away from Earth. Spanning approximately three light-years across in the Vela Constellation, the composite near-infrared light image shows a pair of actively developing stars known as Herbig-Haro 46/47. The pair of stars, which are buried at the epicenter of the image behind the red light diffraction, are “just a few thousand years old,” reads a statement on the James Webb Space Telescope’s website.
“When the stars ‘eat’ too much material in too short a time, they respond by sending out two-sided jets along the opposite axis, settling down the star’s spin, and removing mass from the area,” the statement reads. “Over millennia, these ejections regulate how much mass the stars retain.”
While this image of Herbig-Haro 46/47 is fascinating in itself, as it gives researchers an idea of what our own sun may have looked like at the beginning, directly below the mass is what appears to be a mysteriously well-punctuated message from the universe. While it is unclear exactly what this question mark is, its color and shape give researchers a clue. Representatives of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) told Space.com that the red fuzzy image is “probably a distant galaxy, or potentially interacting galaxies (their interactions may have caused the distorted question mark-shape).”
“This may be the first time we’ve seen this particular object,” STScI added in their statement to the media outlet, adding that “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!”