PARIS, France — NASA and the European Space Agency said Tuesday that the James Webb Space Telescope has peered back into time and large amounts of dust to capture a new image of the Cartwheel Galaxy, revealing a swirling ring of color in unprecedented clarity.
Located about 500 million light-years away in the constellation Sculptor, Cartwheel was formed in a spectacular head-on collision between two galaxies.
A joint statement from NASA and ESA said the impact felt two rings expanding from the center of the galaxy “like ripples in a pond after a stone has been coughed up.”
The smaller white ring is closer to the center of the galaxy, while the outer ring has been expanding into the universe in spirals of color for about 440 million years, the statement added.
As the outer ring expands, it turns into gas, causing new stars to form.
The Hubble telescope captured images of a rare ring galaxy, believed to be a spiral galaxy like our own Milky Way, before it was struck by a smaller intruder galaxy.
But the Webb telescope, which launched in December 2021 and released its first images globally last month, has a much wider scope.
According to NASA and ESA, Webb’s ability to detect infrared light allowed him to see the “vast amount of hot dust” obscuring the view of the Cartwheel Galaxy.
This revealed new details about star formation in the galaxy, as well as the behavior of the supermassive black hole at its heart, they said.
It was also able to detect regions rich in hydrocarbons and other chemicals, as well as dust like dust on Earth.
Behind Cartwheel, two small galaxies shine brightly, and more galaxies can be seen behind them.
Observations suggest that the Cartwheel Galaxy is still in a “very transient phase.”
“While Webb gives us a snapshot of Cartwheel’s current state, it also provides insight into what has happened to this galaxy in the past and how it will evolve in the future.”