PARIS, France — NASA and the European Space Agency said Tuesday that the James Webb Space Telescope has revealed with unprecedented clarity the swirling color ring in time and large amounts of dust to capture a new image of the Cartwheel Galaxy.
Located about 500 million light-years from Earth in the sculptor constellation, the Wheel of Cart acquired its shape during a spectacular head-on collision between two galaxies.
NASA and ESA said in a joint statement that the impact sent two expanding rings from the center of the galaxy, “like ripples in a pond after a stone has been thrown.”
In the statement, a smaller white ring stays closer to the center of the galaxy, while the outer ring, with its colored fingers, has been expanding into the universe for about 440 million years.
As the outer ring expands, it turns into gas, triggering the formation of new stars.
The Hubble telescope had previously captured images of the rare ring galaxy believed to be a spiral galaxy like our own Milky Way before it was hit by a smaller intruder galaxy.
But the Webb telescope, which launched in December 2021 and unveiled its first images to a global fan base last month, has a much wider reach.
NASA and ESA said Webb’s ability to detect infrared light allowed him to see “enormous amounts of hot dust” blocking his view of the Cartwheel Galaxy.
This has revealed new details about star formation in the galaxy and the behavior of the supermassive black hole at its center.
It was also able to detect dust-like dust on Earth, as well as regions rich in hydrocarbons and other chemicals.
Two small galaxies shine brightly behind the Wheel of the Car, while even more galaxies can be seen behind them.
Space agencies said the observations showed that the Cartwheel Galaxy is still in a “very temporary phase”.
“Webb gives us a snapshot of the current state of the Cartwheel, while also giving us insight into what has happened to this galaxy in the past and how it will evolve in the future.”