A background object in the latest image from JWST is certainly puzzling – and not just metaphorically. It is shaped like a giant question mark. The object is most likely a distant galaxy interacting, resulting in a shape that reminds us of a question mark.
The object is a literal smudge below the focus of the picture: Herbig-Haro 46/47. This is a pair of young stars that have been studied for decades. They are located at the edge of a dark nebula, so when observed with visible light they might not appear as grandiose. But JWST's infrared eye was able to peer through those layers, revealing so much more about the environment of these two baby stars.
JWST has such a sharp view of the universe that it was able to snap background objects, most of them galaxies, in this observation. Anything without the characteristic six spokes is something that lies far beyond our galaxy, and among them, there is the question mark.
A likely explanation for the peculiar shape is that the object is a galaxy merger, either well underway or one where two galaxies have started interacting. We know several pairs in the local universe like this. One famous example is the Mice Galaxies.
The system is likely far away. Galaxy mergers have a lot of new star formation so they tend to be “bluer” in color due to the more energetic light emitted by younger stars. This does not seem the case for this object, although sometimes dust in the object or in the foreground can mess up this rule of thumb.
It is unclear if there will be a follow-up on this "?" object – JWST has a packed schedule but it would be cool one day to find out exactly what this question mark is.