The JWST explores the massive shock waves in Stefan’s Quintet

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May 22, 2024

The James Webb Space Telescope explores the massive shock waves in Stefan's Quintet

Stephan’s Quintet in the constellation Pegasus is an optical group of five galaxies, four of which are the first compact galaxy group ever discovered.

Shock waves created by a collision between Stefan’s quintet galaxies and an invading galaxy drive various processes in the intergalactic medium, a thin cloud of hot hydrogen plasma that exists in the intergalactic space.

This violent intrusion of Stephan’s Quintet sets off a “recycling plant” for hot and cold molecular hydrogen gas between the five galaxies, triggering a shock wave several times the size of the Milky Way that flows through the interstellar plasma. In addition, astronomers discovered that a giant cloud of gas breaks up to form a less dense “fog” of hot gas. JWST/ALMA observations show the formation of a tail of hot gas that could be a collision between two clouds, and even the formation of a new galaxy.

Discovering these phenomena will help scientists better understand how turbulence affects the intergalactic medium and affects star formation and galaxy evolution in general.

Stephan’s Quintet (Image credit: NASA)
Discovery of hot and cold molecular hydrogen gas in Stephan’s Quintet (Image credit: ALMA)
JWST (Image credit: NASA)
ALMA (Image credit: ESO)
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