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The Big Question of the Universe – Literally

NASA, ESA, CSA, J. DePasquale
NASA, ESA, CSA, J. DePasquale


On July 26, 2023, the European Center released a photo to the public. Taken by the James Webb telescope, it’s a beautiful photo of a pair of forming stars, Herbig-Haro 46/47. The Herbig- Haroes are found in the Vela constellation, right in the Milky Way, a thousand lightyears from our reach. It was a typical release of photos; people went ooh, pretty! And that was it. Then, everyone realized that, right below the stars, there was a small little dot– in the shape of a question mark. So how did it happen, and why is it so important?

Quite obviously, everyone freaked out. The image went viral on Twitter and Reddit, and theories ranged from aliens sending a sign to Earth to it being a locked area of a video game. Everyone just couldn’t believe the odds. A lot of people thought it was fake, a hoax made up by NASA. The scientists, however, say that it’s something very different. 

The scientists figure that it’s a pair of dust clouds, trying their best to merge into a star. It’s hard to make out that much detail, but some people think that it’s II Zwicky 96, a galaxy merger close to us. They know it’s not a star because usually, with strong telescopes like the James Webb, you can see a few prongs sticking out from the star. This question mark doesn’t have prongs, so we know it isn’t a star. We also know it’s about a few billion light years away, so we won’t be reaching it anytime soon. 

Surprisingly, this has happened before. Not exactly this perfect, but close. For example, once, there was a version formed by the Antennae Galaxies in the Corvus constellation. But that one was backwards. Another is Stephen’s Quintet, a group of five galaxies that somewhat look like our favorite punctuation. 

In the end, the merged galaxies are just that – merged galaxies. This is a perfect example of space being weird and strange, and let’s just hope that this mysterious punctuation mark in space isn’t just a message from aliens. Fingers crossed!




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