Located 500 million light-years from Earth, the Cartwheel galaxy has been photographed in detail by NASA’s James Webb Telescope. In addition to its suggestive shape, very similar to an old wagon wheel, this area of the cosmos sheds light on the processes of formation of new stars.
NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope shows us wheel galaxy like we’ve never seen before, revealing new details about star formation and the black hole at its center. With its powerful infrared gaze, the Webb Telescope reveals the changes this strange galaxy has undergone over billions of years.
Produced by intense collisions
The Cartwheel galaxy is located about 500 million light-years from Earth, in the constellation Sculptor. Its incredible appearance is not the result of chance: it is in fact the result of a violent cosmic eventan intense full-speed collision between a gigantic spiral galaxy and another galaxy of smaller dimensions.
This type of intergalactic collision reaches a dimension that is very difficult to explain in terrestrial terms, given its strength and magnitude. In the end, they cause a series of chain events which affect much larger areas of the Universe than those occupied by the galaxies concerned. This explains the chaotic composition of Cartwheel and its surroundings.
In the specific case of “wheel galaxy”, the shock significantly altered its original shape and structure. Like him Webb Telescope allows us to see, two rings have been created in the same formation, one inside and extremely luminous, with another surrounding and suggestive color. These two rings extend outward from the center of the collision, in a phenomenon similar to the ripples created on the still surface of a lake when a stone is thrown.
These incredible features have led astronomers to place Cartwheel in the category of “ring galaxies”, a much less common variety than spiral galaxies like the Milky Way. But beyond its strange shape, observations made with the Webb telescope’s near-infrared camera (NIRCam) and mid-infrared instrument (MIRI) provide information on cosmic phenomena of scientific importance.
All the time changing
According to a Press releaseNow researchers can see with maximum precision the bright core of the formation, which contains a huge amount of hot dust: the brightest areas are home to gigantic clusters of young stars. At the same time, the outer ring is made up of other regions of star formation and supernova trails. This whole region has been expanding for about 440 million years old and continue to do so.
Consequently, the expanding ring collides with the gas present in the interstellar medium and triggers new star formation process. All these phenomena, as well as the role of the black hole that lives inside the structure, can now be analyzed in detail thanks to the new images obtained by the Webb Telescope.
Although previously other telescopes, including the The Hubble Space Telescope, they had looked towards the strange Cartwheel galaxy to examine this area of the cosmos, their technology was insufficient to reveal all the mysteries that this distant region of the Universe hides. However, Webb’s ability to detect infrared light will provide new insights into the nature of Cartwheel and the mysterious ring galaxies.