NASA and the European Space Agency announced Tuesday that the James Webb Space Telescope has peered through time and massive amounts of dust to capture a new image of the Cartwheel Galaxy, revealing the spinning ring of colour in unprecedented clarity.
The Cartwheel, located approximately 500 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Sculptor, was formed by a spectacular head-on collision between two galaxies.
According to NASA and the ESA, the impact caused two rings to expand from the galaxy’s centre, “like ripples in a pond after a stone is thrown into it.”
A smaller white ring remains near the galaxy’s centre, while the outer ring, with its coloured spokes, has been expanding into the universe for approximately 440 million years, according to the statement.
As the outer ring expands, it collides with gas, causing new stars to form.
The Hubble Space Telescope had previously captured images of the rare ring galaxy, which is thought to have been a spiral galaxy similar to our own Milky Way before being struck by a smaller intruder galaxy.
The Webb telescope, which is scheduled to launch in December 2021 and released its first images to worldwide acclaim last month, has a far greater reach.
According to NASA and the ESA, Webb’s ability to detect infrared light allowed it to see through the “tremendous amount of hot dust” obscuring the view of the Cartwheel Galaxy.
According to the researchers, this revealed new information about star formation in the galaxy as well as the behaviour of the galaxy’s supermassive black hole.
It could also detect regions rich in hydrocarbons and other chemicals, as well as dust similar to that found on Earth.
Two smaller galaxies shine brightly behind the Cartwheel, with even more galaxies visible behind them.
According to the space agencies, the observations show that the Cartwheel Galaxy is still in a “very transitory stage.”
“While Webb provides us with a snapshot of the Cartwheel’s current state, it also gives us insight into what happened to this galaxy in the past and how it will evolve in the future.”