Stephan’s Quintet – Did A Member Leave The Band?

Yet another beautiful photo from the famous JWST. Not only does this photo contain beauty and triggers fascination, it also holds information that to date has been hidden from us because our telescopes have not been able to resolve these events.

Stephan’s Quintet photographed by JWST. Stephan’s Quintet contains five galaxies and is found in the Pegasus constellation. This is the largest photo from JWST to date and it covers a size on the night sky that corresponds to 1/5 of the moon. The oval-shaped galaxy to the left appears more details that others. This is because it it much closer to us. The four other galaxies are almost 300 million light-years away, but the galaxy to the left is only 40 million light-years away. These distances sound large, but on the scale of the universe, they are very close. Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI.

One Is Not Like The Other

Stephan’s Quintet is made up by five galaxies. Or, this is at least what it looks like to us.

Only four of the five galaxies are actually located in the vicinity of each other. The galaxy to the far left is much closer than the others. If Stephan’s Quintet was the Spice Girls, this galaxy would be Geri Halliwell. With the much more boring name, NGC 7320, it is found only 40 million light-years away from us, where as the others are much further away at a distance of almost 300 million light-years. So this galaxy is indeed much closer to us and has nothing to do with the rest of the group.

Because the galaxy is so much closer, JWST has managed to resolve individual stars in the galaxy. This is so spectacular. When you take a look at the four other galaxies, you will see that they look like a single light source, almost like a big light bulb that has been switched on, whereas the rebel Geri Halliwell galaxy looks far more sophisticated due to the extremely high level of detail.

This added information is used by astronomers to investigate stellar properties in other galaxies to get a better understanding of how stars form in groups and how they evolve.

Another cool thing in this photo is found in the top galaxy. At the very center of this galaxy is found a supermassive black hole with a mass of a staggering 24 million suns. This impressive compact object is a so-called active galactic nucleus. It’s called active because it swallows the surrounding mass and spits it out as energetic blasts corresponding to 40,000,000,000 suns!

This photo is truly impressive – and it’s the largest photo JWST has taken to date. I am super excited to see what this telescope will show us next.


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