Space & Science

Webb Telescope captures colorful Cartwheel galaxy, 500 million light-years away

PARIS, France — The James Webb Space Telescope peered through the weather and massive amounts of dust to capture a new image of the Cartwheel Galaxy, revealing the spinning ring of color with unprecedented clarity, NASA and the European Space Agency.

Located about 500 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Sculptor, the wheel took its shape during a spectacular head-on collision between two galaxies.

The impact sent two rings expanding out from the center of the galaxy, “like ripples in a pond after a rock was thrown into it,” NASA and ESA said in a joint statement.

A smaller white ring remains closer to the center of the galaxy, while the outer ring, with its colored rays, has been stretching across the universe for about 440 million years, the statement added.

As the outer ring expands, it turns into gas, causing new stars to form.

The Hubble Telescope had previously captured images of the rare ring galaxy, which would have been a spiral galaxy like our own Milky Way before it was hit by a smaller intruding galaxy.

This image of a ring-shaped galaxy known as the Cartwheel was taken from the Webb Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) (NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO Production Team)

But the Webb Telescope, which launched in December 2021 and revealed its first images to global fanfare last month, has a far greater reach.

Webb’s ability to detect infrared light allowed him to see through “the enormous amount of hot dust” obscuring the view of the Cartwheel galaxy, NASA and ESA said.

This revealed new details about star formation in the galaxy, as well as the behavior of the supermassive black hole at its core, they said.

It was also able to detect regions rich in hydrocarbons and other chemicals, as well as dust similar to dust on Earth.

Behind the wheel, two smaller galaxies shine brightly, while other galaxies can be seen behind them.

The observations show that the Cartwheel Galaxy is still in a “very transitional stage”, the space agencies have said.

“While Webb gives us insight into the current state of the wheel, it also gives insight into what happened to this galaxy in the past and how it will evolve into the future.”

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