The James Webb Space Telescope peered through time and massive amounts of dust to capture a new image of the Cartwheel galaxy, revealing the rotating color ring with unprecedented clarity, NASA and the European Space Agency said on Tuesday.
Located about 500 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Sculptor, the chariot wheel gained its shape during a spectacular head-on collision between two galaxies.
NASA and the European Space Agency said in a joint statement that the collision sent two rings expanding from the galactic center “like ripples in a pond after a stone was thrown into it.”
The statement added that the smaller white ring remains closer to the center of the galaxy, while the outer ring with its colorful edges has been expanding in the universe about 440 million years ago.
As the outer ring expands, it flows into gas, which leads to the formation of new stars.
The Hubble Telescope previously took pictures of the rare ring galaxy, which is thought to be a spiral galaxy like our own Milky Way before it was hit by a smaller exotic galaxy.
But the Webb Telescope, which launched in December 2021 and revealed its first images in global furor last month, has a much greater range.
NASA and the European Space Agency said Webb’s ability to detect infrared light allowed him to see a “massive amount of hot dust” obscuring the view of the Cartwell Galaxy.
This revealed new details about the formation of stars in the galaxy, as well as the behavior of the supermassive black hole at its core, they said.
It was also able to detect areas rich in hydrocarbons and other chemicals, as well as dust that resembles the dust found on Earth.
Behind the wagon wheel, two small galaxies shine brightly, while more galaxies can be seen behind them.
The space agencies said the observations show that the Cartwheel Galaxy is still in a “very transitional phase”.
“While Webb gives us a glimpse into the current state of the Cartwheel, it also provides insight into what happened to this galaxy in the past and how it will evolve in the future.”