New images taken by James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) reveal unprecedented details about the cartwheel galaxy, located 500 million light-years from planet Earth. It is also possible to see in detail two smaller galaxies that are companions of the larger one.
Ring-shaped galaxies like this one are much rarer than spiral galaxies like our Milky Way. James Webb recorded the cosmic object with two different pieces of equipment: the near-infrared (NIRCam) and mid-infrared (MIRI) camera.
James Webb Telescope photographed the Cartwheel galaxy with NIRCam equipment (Source: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI/reproduction)Source: NASA
Also called the Wagon Wheel or ESO 350-40, the galaxy is curiously shaped. At its center is a smaller ring, surrounded by a much larger ring, 150,000 light-years across.
This figure is the result of a high-speed collision with another galaxy, which occurred about 200 million years ago. The event profoundly transformed the position of stars around Cartwheel’s central black hole.
The photographs provide information for scientists interested in investigating the origins of this unusual cluster of stars. It is possible to see, for example, the bright core that indicates the formation zone of the youngest stars in the system.
Cartwheel has already been seen through the lens of the Hubble telescope (Source: NASA/reproduction)Source: NASA
The Hubble telescope had previously imaged Cartwheel, but the image visualization was hampered by the amount of gas present around the star cluster. Thanks to Webb’s powerful infrared cameras, it was possible to see through this obstacle.
With the equipment aboard James Webb, astronomers are able to better unravel the story of Cartwheel, which is in a transitional stage. It, which had a spiral shape before the collision, is expected to continue transforming for millennia.