NASA’s James Webb telescope captures colorful cartwheel galaxy: details

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 spinning color ring in unprecedented clarity, NASA and the European Space Agency said Tuesday. Located about 500 million light-years from Earth in the Sculptor constellation, the Cartwheel was formed during a spectacular head-on collision between two galaxies.

The impact caused two rings to expand from the center of the galaxy, “like ripples in a pond after a rock is thrown into it,” NASA and the ESA said in a joint statement.

A smaller white ring remains closer to the galaxy’s center, while the outer ring, with its colored spokes, has expanded across the universe for about 440 million years, the statement said.

As the outer ring expands, it enters gas, causing the formation of new stars.

The Hubble Telescope had previously captured images of the rare ring galaxy, believed to have been a spiral galaxy like our own Milky Way before being hit by a smaller intruder galaxy.

But the Webb telescope, which launched in December 2021 and unveiled its first images to worldwide fanfare last month, has a much wider reach.

Webb’s ability to detect infrared light allowed it to see through the “huge amount of hot dust” obscuring the view of the Cartwheel Galaxy, NASA and the 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 areas rich in hydrocarbons and other chemicals, as well as dust that resembles dust on Earth.

Behind the Cartwheel, two smaller galaxies shine brightly, while more galaxies can be seen behind it.

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

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