The James Webb Space Telescope has taken a picture of the Cartwheel galaxy, which got its weird wheel-like shape when a smaller galaxy crashed through it
2 August 2022
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has taken a picture of one of the strangest galaxies in the universe. The details of the Cartwheel galaxy are obscured by dust, which has made studying it difficult, but the new images from JWST peer through to reveal this weird galaxy in more detail than ever before.
The Cartwheel galaxy is about 500 million light years away and measures about 150,000 light years across. Researchers believe that it was most likely a spiral galaxy similar to the Milky Way before one of its companion galaxies blasted through it like a bullet through a target, sending waves of stars and gas rippling out from the galaxy’s centre and creating the nested ring shapes that we see today.
The inner ring that surrounds the relatively old stars at the centre of the galaxy is made mostly of hot, bright dust, along with some huge clusters of young stars. The outer ring is just as dynamic if not even more so – as it expands outward, it smashes through the gas surrounding the galaxy and triggers bursts of star formation, which light up the surrounding dust.
There are also areas of intense star formation in the spokes connecting the two rings, which seem to be remnants of the galaxy’s spiral arms. “This dust is lighting up the spokes as well as the rim of the wheel, and that’s very neat to see,” says Karl Gordon at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Maryland. “It’s telling us there’s lots of star formation going on, maybe even more than we thought.”
This image also revealed a region of star formation at the bottom right of the galaxy that is much brighter than researchers expected. As they continue to analyse the image, they will gain more insight into how the Cartwheel galaxy is evolving and what it might look like in the future as the aftermath of its titanic collision settles down.
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