Webb Space Telescope Pears in the Chaos – Cartwheel Captures Stellar Gymnastics in Galaxy

Cartwheel Galaxy (NIRCam and MIRI composite image)

A wheel-like large pink, speckled galaxy with a small, inner oval, two smaller spiral galaxies of equal size on the left against a black background, with a dusty blue in the middle on the right. This image of Cartwheel and its companion galaxies is a composite from Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI), revealing details that are difficult to see in individual images alone. Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI

Webb’s tools reveal new details about star formation

Incredible imaging capabilities of[{” attribute=””>NASA’s

Webb’s high-precision instruments resolved individual stars and star-forming regions within the Cartwheel. They also revealed the behavior of the black hole within its galactic center. These new details provide a renewed understanding of a galaxy in the midst of a slow transformation.

Cartwheel Galaxy (MIRI Image)

This image from Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) shows a group of galaxies, including a large distorted ring-shaped galaxy known as the Cartwheel. The Cartwheel Galaxy, located 500 million light-years away in the Sculptor constellation, is composed of a bright inner ring and an active outer ring. While this outer ring has a lot of star formation, the dusty area in between reveals many stars and star clusters. The mid-infrared light captured by MIRI reveals fine details about these dusty regions and young stars within the Cartwheel Galaxy, which are rich in hydrocarbons and other chemical compounds, as well as silicate dust, like much of the dust on Earth. Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO Production Team

Webb Captures Stellar Gymnastics in the Cartwheel Galaxy

Peering into the chaos of the Cartwheel Galaxy, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope reveals new details about star formation and the galaxy’s central

Located about 500 million light-years away in the Sculptor constellation, the Cartwheel Galaxy is a rare sight. 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, which is not visible in this image. Collisions of galactic proportions cause a cascade of different, smaller events between the galaxies involved, and the Cartwheel is no exception.


This video shows two new views of the Cartwheel Galaxy from the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope. The first image of Cartwheel and its companion galaxies is a joint from Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI), revealing details that are difficult to see in individual images alone. The second image sheds light on the mid-infrared light captured by MIRI to reveal fine details about these dusty regions and young stars within the Cartwheel Galaxy.

The collision notably affected the shape and structure of the Milky Way. The Cartwheel Galaxy sports two rings – a bright inner ring and a surrounding, colored ring. These two rings extend out from the center of the collision, like ripples after throwing a stone in a pond. Because of these distinctive features, astronomers call it a “ring galaxy”, which is less common than the structure spiral galaxies like ours[{” attribute=””>Milky Way.

The bright core contains a tremendous amount of hot dust with the brightest areas being the home to gigantic young star clusters. On the other hand, the outer ring, which has expanded for about 440 million years, is dominated by star formation and supernovas. As this ring expands, it plows into surrounding gas and triggers star formation.

Other telescopes, including the Hubble Space Telescope, have previously examined the Cartwheel. But the dramatic galaxy has been shrouded in mystery – perhaps literally, given the amount of dust that obscures the view. Webb, with its ability to detect infrared light, now uncovers new insights into the nature of the Cartwheel.

The Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam), Webb’s primary imager, looks in the near-infrared range from 0.6 to 5 microns, seeing crucial wavelengths of light that can reveal even more stars than observed in visible light. This is because young stars, many of which are forming in the outer ring, are less obscured by the presence of dust when observed in infrared light. In this image, NIRCam data are colored blue, orange, and yellow. The galaxy displays many individual blue dots, which are individual stars or pockets of star formation. NIRCam also reveals the difference between the smooth distribution or shape of the older star populations and dense dust in the core compared to the clumpy shapes associated with the younger star populations outside of it.

Hubble Captures Stunning Image of Cartwheel Galaxy

This is an image of the Cartwheel Galaxy taken with the NASA/ESA (European Space Agency) Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA

Learning finer details about the dust that inhabits the galaxy, however, requires Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI). MIRI data are colored red in this composite image. It reveals regions within the Cartwheel Galaxy rich in hydrocarbons and other chemical compounds, as well as silicate dust, like much of the dust on Earth. These regions form a series of spiraling spokes that essentially form the galaxy’s skeleton. These spokes are evident in previous Hubble observations released in 2018, but they become much more prominent in this Webb image.

Webb’s observations underscore that the Cartwheel is in a very transitory stage. The galaxy, which was presumably a normal spiral galaxy like the Milky Way before its collision, will continue to transform. While Webb gives us a snapshot of the current state of the Cartwheel, it also provides insight into what happened to this galaxy in the past and how it will evolve in the future.

The James Webb Space Telescope is the world’s premier space science observatory. Webb will solve mysteries in our solar system, look beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probe the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it. Webb is an international program led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.

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