The latest image from the space observatory shows the Cartwheel galaxy, a ring galaxy 500 million light-years away that formed when a large spiral galaxy and a small galaxy collided violently.
When galaxies collide, they can change shape and structure. In the Cartwheel galaxy, which looks a bit like a cartwheel, a colored ring surrounds an even brighter inner ring – both of which extend out from the collision core, as seen in the Webb image.
These characteristics explain why scientists classify the cartwheel as a ring galaxy, which is much less common than spiral galaxies.
Astronomers have gleaned new information about individual stars and star formation in the chaotic galaxy, as well as the black hole at the galactic center, thanks to Webb’s abilities.
The new image reveals more about how the galaxy has evolved over billions of years.
Among the hot dust of the bright inner ring, giant young star clusters are forming, the image shows.
Meanwhile, the outer ring has been expanding for 440 million years, and is where star formation and death (in the form of supernova explosions) occur. As the ring expands, it collides with gas, triggering more star formation.
Two small companion galaxies also appear in the image.
The Hubble Space Telescope and other observatories have studied the wheel, but accumulations of dust have obscured the mysteries of the galaxy. Webb is an infrared telescope, observing light invisible to the human eye, which is why it was able to capture new details that other instruments could not.
The new image is a composite of data collected by Webb’s near-infrared camera and mid-infrared instrument and captures a moment in time as the wheel continues to slowly turn.