NASA on Tuesday released a rare and stunning image of a galaxy 500 million light-years away, the Cartwheel Galaxy, whose rings are visible with unprecedented clarity thanks to the all-new James Webb Space Telescope.
Like our Milky Way, astronomers believe that the Cartwheel Galaxy was once a spiral galaxy. But a spectacular event gave it shape: a collision with another smaller galaxy (not visible in the image).
Then, two rings formed at the center of the collision, similar to ripples in concentric circles caused by a stone thrown into the water. This is what earned it the evocative name.
The first ring, larger in the center, is very bright, while the second, on the outside, has been expanding for 440 million years.
During its expansion, the ring collides with the surrounding gas, causing the formation of stars.
This galaxy has already been observed by the Hubble Space Telescope, but James Webb’s infrared capabilities reveal new details hitherto hidden, allowing you to see through a lot of dust.
The composite image from the telescope’s two science instruments also shows two other smaller galaxies, as well as many more in the background.
The Cartwheel Galaxy is still in a “transitional” state, NASA said in a statement. While the James Webb telescope “gives us an idea of (its) current state, it also gives us an idea of what has happened to it in the past and how it will develop in the future.”
The James Webb Telescope, a $10 billion engineering gem, was launched into space about seven months ago and is 1.5 million kilometers from Earth.