The latest image taken by the telescope shows a new galaxy that we’re exploring now. The Cartwheel Galaxy is located in the constellation Sculptor, 500 million light years away from Earth. It gets its name from the cartwheel-like shape, which was created as a result of two galaxies – one spiral-shaped and another smaller galaxy – colliding. The high-speed collision resulted in the formation of what astronomers call a ‘ring galaxy’, which is rarer than spiral galaxies like our Milky Way. The image clearly shows two rings expanding from the centre of the galaxy – one very bright ring at the centre and a second outer ring that is not as bright.
Astronomers from NASA and the European Space Agency say the outer ring has been expanding for the last 440 million years. The Hubble Telescope and its predecessors also took images of the Cartwheel Galaxy, but none were as clear and defined as the ones that James Webb has managed to take. Thanks to its ability to detect and read infrared light, the telescope was able to see through the large amount of dust surrounding the galaxy.
New data shared by the James Webb telescope gives astronomers more insight into the formation of stars in the outer ring of the galaxy, as well as the supermassive black hole in the centre of it. Its Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) has highlighted an extensive amount of hydrocarbons and other chemical compounds in the hot dust, which shows it’s similar to the dust on Earth.
But the most important learning from these images is that the Cartwheel Galaxy is still transitioning. It used to be a spiral galaxy before the collision, but now it is still transforming into the ring galaxy. The galaxies behind it are just as intriguing, say NASA and ESA. And while we wait for the James Webb telescope to explore those next, we’ll keep looking into the past to learn more about our future.
Read more about the latest developments in Space in ‘Did You Know?’
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