Knotty

Look: JWST captures a galaxy cluster that could solve a dark matter mystery

European Space Agency via Giphy

The early universe is full of secrets.

Thanks to the James Webb Space Telescope, astronomers are able to peer further into the cosmic past than ever before.

Sometimes scientists find objects they weren’t expecting, as was the case with a newly discovered cluster of galaxies.

European Space Agency via Giphy

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Writing in an upcoming report in Astrophysical Journal Letters, researchers described how they used JWST to view a single galaxy, and ended up bringing three new ones into view.

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They also got a sharper look at the striking center of the galactic cluster: an ancient quasar.

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Quasars are powerful, extremely bright objects that are fueled by a supermassive black hole gobbling up gas and dust.

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The quasar at the center of this cluster is estimated to be around 11.5 billion years old.

It’s one of the most powerful known quasars for its age.

This is JWST’s view of the quasar, comprised of four separate images.

ESA/Webb, NASA, CSA, D. Wylezalek, A. Vayner and the Q3D Team

ESA/Webb, NASA, CSA, D. Wylezalek, A. Vayner and the Q3D Team

When it was imaged previously by the Hubble Space Telescope, researchers thought the quasar was interacting with something nearby, but they couldn’t see what it was.

Sure enough, three galaxies are densely packed around the quasar in a great galactic knot, constantly tugging on each other.

ESA/Webb, NASA, CSA, D. Wylezalek, A. Vayner & the Q3D Team, N. Zakamska

The discovery helps researchers better understand how galaxies formed in the early universe.

ESA/Hubble, NASA, N. Zakamska

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Researchers think the region also holds a lot of dark matter since the three new galaxies orbit quickly around each other and are crammed together in space.

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“Even a dense knot of dark matter isn’t sufficient to explain it. We think we could be seeing a region where two massive halos of dark matter are merging together.”

Dominika Wylezalek, study co-author, in a statement.