On August 2, the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the European Space Agency (ESA) announced that the James Webb Space Telescope captured images of the Cartwheel galaxy.
Through its website, NASA showed the world the image of the Cartwheel galaxy, named for its resemblance to a cart wheel. In addition, the James Webb was reported to have revealed new details about the galaxy’s star formation.
Located in the constellation Sculptor, approximately 500 million light-years from Earth, NASA classifies the appearance of the distant galaxy as a “rare spectacle”:
Its appearance, much like that of a cartwheel, is the result of an intense event: a high-speed collision between a large spiral galaxy and a smaller galaxy. Collisions of galactic proportions trigger a cascade of different, smaller events between the galaxies involved, Cartwheel being no exception.
According to the space agency, the collision most notably affected the shape and structure of Cartwheel, which sports two rings: a bright inner one and a colorful surrounding one. These two rings expand outward from the center of the collision, like ripples in a pond after a stone is thrown.
Because of these distinctive features, astronomers call it a “ring galaxy,” a less common structure than spiral galaxies like the Milky Way. The bright core contains an enormous amount of hot dust, and the brightest areas are home to gigantic clusters of young stars. On the other hand, the outer ring, which has been expanding for about 440 million years, is dominated by star formation and supernovae.
As this ring expands, it collides with surrounding gas and triggers star formation. Other telescopes, including the Hubble Space Telescope, had previously examined the Cartwheel.
However, due to the amount of dust obscuring the view, the galaxy had been shrouded in mystery, but Webb, with his ability to detect infrared light, was able to uncover new insights into the nature of Cartwheel. According to NASA, the image also provides insight into what has happened to Cartwheel in the past and how it is likely to evolve in the future.