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Webb Space Telescope Turns Its Eye on the Chaotic Cartwheel Galaxy

The Cartwheel Galaxy features a small inner ring and a larger outer ring that has been expanding for over 440 million years.

The Cartwheel Galaxy features a small inner ring and a larger outer ring that has been expanding for over 440 million years.
Image: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI

The Webb Space Telescope team has unveiled the latest image from the observatory, and it’s a gorgeous portrait of the Cartwheel Galaxy, a dazzling object 500 million light-years away that formed from the high-speed collision of two galaxies.

Webb has wowed us several times now with its earliest images of the universe, including new views of Jupiter. This fresh shot features striking pinks, red-oranges, and dull blues. The Cartwheel Galaxy is what’s known as a ring galaxy and is located in the Sculptor constellation. NASA says that, unlike the common spiral galaxies that litter our universe, ring galaxies are a much rarer sight.

The collision that formed Cartwheel created a double ring structure, “like ripples in a pond after a stone is tossed into it,” NASA describes. The inner core of Cartwheel consists of hot dust, and the brightest parts of the ring are the home of gigantic clusters of young stars. The outer ring has been expanding for the last 440 million years, triggering star formation along the way as the outer ring slams into the gas surrounding it.

The Cartwheel Galaxy looks a bit like a wagon wheel.

The Cartwheel Galaxy looks a bit like a wagon wheel.
Image: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI

The Cartwheel Galaxy was previously imaged by Hubble Space Telescope, but Webb was able to capture the galaxy in more detail with its Near-Infrared Camera and Mid-Infrared Instrument, since younger stars are less obscured by interstellar dust when viewed in infrared. The Near-Infrared Camera images wavelengths from 0.6 to 5 microns, and NIRCam data in the Cartwheel image appear as blues, oranges, and yellows. The Mid-Infrared Instrument images wavelengths from 5 to 28 microns, and that data appears as red.

The Webb Space Telescope is just getting started in its mission to illuminate mysterious and intricate parts of our universe. It will even support the search for alien life. As scientists study the incoming data, we’ll continue to get incredible views like this one.

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