Scientists at NASA initially wanted to study another massive object but found the red small question mark after they took a closer look beneath their focused object.
The universe is a big place and there are endless discoveries yet to be made.
This time around, scientists accidentally found a weird-looking object while they were examining a different subject with pictures captured from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope.
Fun Fact: James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is NASA‘s largest and most powerful space science telescope that can see light from over 13 billion light-years away.
According to Space Explore, a team from the European Space Agency (ESA) unveiled an image two weeks ago (26 June) from the Webb telescope showing a detailed view of two actively forming young stars named the Herbig-Haro 46/47, located in the Vela Constellation positioned roughly 1,470 light-years away from our planet.
But what they didn’t notice was, just beneath Herbig-Haro 46/47, in the pitch-dark background against colourful stars, is a small red blotch that looked quite familiar when zoomed in.
And what do you know, when scientists zoomed in, the blotch looked like a question mark! In outer space! Well, seems like the universe is in denial about itself too, huh?
So what is it?
Scientists can’t accurately confirm what it is but they have their own theories based on the characteristic of the object.
According to the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, which is the place that oversees JWST’s operation, the closest explanation they could whip up is that it’s a remote galaxy or possibly a pair of galaxies tangling in each other’s gravitational pull, resulting in an image that looks like a question mark.
“This may be the first time we’ve seen this particular object,” the representatives at STScl said.
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!Representatives at STScl
In addition, Dr Matt Caplan, an assistant professor of physics at Illinois State University agreed with the hypothesis and told Space.com that the object might be two galaxies merging. To him, it couldn’t be a star due to the lack of eight-pronged refraction spikes that would typically radiate outward from stars in JWST’s images as a result of its mirrors.
The two distinct features could easily be merging galaxies in the background, with the upper part of the question mark being part of a larger galaxy getting tidally disrupted.Dr Matt Caplan, Assistant Professor of Physics at Illinois State University
Despite how chaotic mergers are, double lobed objects with curvy tails extending away from them are very typical.
The red colour of the object indicated that it is likely quite distant. Other researchers have also highlighted that the colour of the question mark is similar to other distant galaxies in the same image.
More research and findings will be done to properly determine what the object could be but for now, this would be the most plausible explanation.
So what do you think the object is? What does it signify? Are aliens asking us how we’re doing? Or is the universe itself contemplating the meaning of life?
We’ll never know for sure.