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NASA Reports Giant 'Jellyfish' Galaxy With 260,000-Light-Year Gas Tail

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NASA reported a mysterious "jellyfish" galaxy known as ESO 137-001. It has young blue stars dangling at its tail.

The galaxy's disk-like cosmic tentacles are made up of long gas stretching 260,000 light-years across space. The "jellyfish" galaxy was first observed by the Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope in 2014.

Newly Forming Stars

ESO 137-001 is a barred spiral galaxy, which is relatively similar to the size of the Milky Way. It is located in the southern constellation Triangulum Australe and is about 220 million light-years from Earth. It's also part of a cluster of galaxies called Abell 3627.

Its long, gaseous tail is filled with newborn stars, and scientists especially want to know the mystery behind the phenomenon.

According to NASA, the young stars forming in the galaxy's tail should be virtually impossible as processes common in large groups of galaxies should make it difficult for new stars to appear.

Realms between galaxies are filled with hot gas. That gas acts like a headwind when it gets pulled in by galaxies living in the cluster, resulting in a process called "ram pressure stripping."

Ram pressure stripping slows down star formation in the affected galaxies, that's why scientists are curious about the star formations in ESO 137-001's tail. The stripping process should have heated the gas, but surprisingly, it didn't.

"We think it's hard to strip off a molecular cloud that's already forming stars because it should be tightly bound to the galaxy by gravity. Which means either we're wrong, or this gas got stripped off and heated up, but then had to cool again so that it could condense and form stars," said Stacey Alberts of the University of Arizona, a co-investigator on the project.

"Telling these two scenarios apart is one of the things we want to get at," she added.

The James Webb Space Telescope 

The James Webb Space Telescope is the key to understanding ESO 137-001. It is slated to launch in 2021.

According to NASA, the James Webb Telescope will pinpoint target sites of star formation at different areas around the tail: near its end, in the middle, and close to the galaxy.

This will help scientists learn how the stripping process evolved over time and its influence on the conditions to form new stars.

Webb has a special instrument installed to further examine the mysterious galaxy, called the Mid-Infrared Instrument). MIRI's observations will provide 50 times more spatial detail and 20 times better spectral detail than previous work by other infrared observatories.

Aside from solving the mysteries of ESO 137-001, the telescope is also capable of probing the mysterious structures and origins of the universe, as well as looking beyond to distant worlds around other stars.

The entire project is made possible through the collaboration of NASA, the Canadian Space Agency, and the European Space Agency.

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