The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has captured stunning new photographs of the distant Cartwheel galaxy, which is 500 million light-years from Earth. Two smaller galaxies that orbit around the main one may also be seen clearly.
This kind of ring galaxy is significantly less common than spiral galaxies like our own Milky Way. James Webb used the mid-infrared (MIRI) camera and the near-infrared (NIRCam) camera to capture the astronomical object.
This galaxy, known by a variety of names including the Wagon Wheel and ESO 350-40, has a very unusual form. It consists of a smaller inner ring and a bigger outer ring, each about 150,000 light-years in diameter.
This size is due to a high-velocity collision with another galaxy that happened about 200 Mya. Stars near Cartwheel’s center black hole have moved significantly as a result of the catastrophe.
Scientists interested in learning more about the history of this peculiar group of stars may find the photos useful. The brilliant core that marks the region where the younger stars in the system are forming is one such example.
Although Cartwheel had been previously observed by the Hubble telescope, the abundance of gas in its vicinity made it difficult to make out details in the resulting picture. Webb’s high-tech infrared cameras made it feasible to see over the obstruction.
Astronomers can better piece together the tale of Cartwheel, which is now in a transitional phase, using the tools on board James Webb. Its pre-collision spiral structure suggests that its further transformations will take millennia.