PARIS, France — The James Webb Space Telescope has peered through time and vast amounts of dust to capture a new image of the Cartwheel Galaxy, revealing the rotating ring of color with unprecedented clarity, NASA and the Agency said Tuesday. European Space.
Located about 500 million light-years from Earth in the Sculptor constellation, Cartwheel took its shape during a spectacular head-on collision between two galaxies.
The impact sent two rings expanding from the galaxy’s center, “like ripples in a pond after a stone is thrown,” 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 rays of color, has been expanding in 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 is thought to have been a spiral galaxy like our own Milky Way before it was pummeled by a smaller interloper galaxy.
But the Webb telescope, which launched in December 2021 and revealed its first images to global fanfare last month, has a much larger reach.
Webb’s ability to detect infrared light allowed it to see through the “tremendous amount of hot dust” that obscured 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 heart, they said.
It was also able to detect regions rich in hydrocarbons and other chemicals, as well as dust similar to Earth dust.
Behind Cartwheel, two smaller galaxies shine brightly, while behind them even more galaxies can be seen.
The observations show that the Cartwheel Galaxy is still in a “very transient stage,” the space agencies said.
“While Webb gives us a snapshot of Cartwheel’s current state, it also provides insights into what has happened to this galaxy in the past and how it will evolve in the future.”