James Webb Space Telescope captures stunning image of Cartwheel Galaxy

A superb image captured by the James Webb Space Telescope gave us the clearest appearance of the Cartwheel Galaxy so far.

NASA released the image of the distant galaxy on Tuesday — named for its resemblance to a wagon wheel. The Cartwheel Galaxy is located about 500 million light-years away in the constellation Sculptor, the agency said in a press release.

An image of the distant Cartwheel galaxy, located about 500 million light-years away in the constellation Sculptor. It was taken by the James Webb Space Telescope.

IMAGE: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO Production Team

The image shows the Cartwheel galaxy alongside two “smaller companion galaxies, against a backdrop of many other galaxies.” The image reveals that the Cartwheel galaxy has a bright inner ring and a surrounding colorful ring, the result of a high-speed collision between a large spiral galaxy and a smaller galaxy, NASA said.

According to NASA, the galaxy’s right inner ring contains a huge amount of hot dust, with the brightest areas containing gigantic young star clusters. The outer ring has extended from the center of the collision for about 440 million years. When it expands and meets the surrounding gas, stars are formed.

The Cartwheel Galaxy, whose rings extend outward from the center of the collision, is classified as a “ring galaxy,” which is rarer than spiral galaxies like our Milky Way, NASA said.

cartwheel galaxy
This image of the cartwheel and its companion galaxies is a composite of Webb’s near-infrared camera (NIRCam) and mid-infrared instrument (MIRI), which reveals details difficult to see in individual images alone.

IMAGE: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO Production Team

NASA had tried to get a clear view of the elusive galaxy, including with the use of the Hubble Space Telescope, but couldn’t due to the amount of dust obscuring the view. However, the Advanced Webb Space Telescope, whose near-infrared camera (NIRCam) can detect infrared light, clearly captured young stars forming in the outer ring of the galaxy.

The image also provided insight into what happened to the Cartwheel galaxy in the past and how it likely will evolve in the future. The galaxy, which was “likely a normal galaxy like the Milky Way before it collided,” is currently in a transitional phase and will continue to transform, NASA said.

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