The James Webb Space Telescope keeps cranking out images of some of the most unusual features of deep space.
This week, NASA and its partners released new images of what it called a “rare” feature: the rings and spokes of the Cartwheel Galaxy, some 500 million light years from Earth in the Sculptor constellation.
“Its appearance, much like that of the wheel of a wagon, is the result of an intense event ― a high-speed collision between a large spiral galaxy and a smaller galaxy not visible in this image,” NASA said in a news release. “Collisions of galactic proportions cause a cascade of different, smaller events between the galaxies involved; the Cartwheel is no exception.”
The space agencies released several images, including this composite from its the Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI):
“The Cartwheel is composed of two rings, a bright inner ring and a colorful outer ring,” the Space Telescope Science Institute, which handles science and mission operation for the telescope, said in a news release. “Both rings expand outward from the center of the collision like shockwaves.”
These ring galaxies, as they are known, are much less common than spiral galaxies, such as our own Milky Way.
NASA said the bright core contains hot dust and “gigantic young star clusters,” while the outer ring ― which has been expanding for 440 millions years ― features new stars forming and supernovas.
“The form that the Cartwheel Galaxy will eventually take, given these two competing forces, is still a mystery,” the Space Telescope Science Institute said. “However, this snapshot provides perspective on what happened to the galaxy in the past and what it will do in the future.”
Here’s the image just from the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI):
“Young stars, many of which are present in the bottom right of the outer ring, energize surrounding hydrocarbon dust, causing it to glow orange,” the Space Telescope Science Institute said in a news release. “On the other hand, the clearly defined dust between the core and the outer ring, which forms the ‘spokes’ that inspire the galaxy’s name, is mostly silicate dust.”
For comparison, here’s a Hubble image of the galaxy captured in 1996: