NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope captured a stunning image of the Cartwheel Galaxy, revealing new details about its composition, shape and structure.
The image released by NASA on Tuesday shows the Cartwheel Galaxy in never-before-seen detail. The large pink, speckled galaxy that resembles a wagon wheel, pictured in a “very transient phase” with two spiral companion galaxies, lies about 500 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Sculptor in the southern sky.
This cosmic snapshot provides a new view of how the Cartwheel Galaxy has changed over billions of years and how it may evolve in the future. The researchers say that the Cartwheel Galaxy’s shape and structure show that it was formed by an intergalactic collision “between a large spiral galaxy and a smaller galaxy,” which is not visible in the image.
The galaxy’s striking shape is made up of a colorful outer ring and a bright inner ring from which bright spokes emerge. NASA explains that these rings are expanding outward from the center of the collision “like ripples in a pond after a stone has been thrown.” These distinctive features have led astronomers to classify the Cartwheel Galaxy as a “ring galaxy”, making it a rare sight.
According to NASA, the bright center of the galaxy “contains an abundance of hot dust, the brightest regions of which are home to massive young star clusters.” “On the other hand, the outer ring, which has expanded for about 440 million years, is dominated by star formation and supernovae. As this ring expands, it plows into the surrounding gas and triggers star formation.”
Photo by the James Webb Space Telescope