A lenticular galaxy 500 million light years away has just been papped by everyone’s new favourite space telescope, and it looks incredible.
Taken by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the new image of the Cartwheel Galaxy highlights the galaxy’s two rings — a bright inner ring and a surrounding, outer ring which looks a bit like the spokes on a wheel.
The inner ring contains lots of hot dust, and the brightest areas are home to gigantic young star clusters. The outer ring, which has expanded for about 440 million years, is dominated by star formation and supernovas.
Astronomers believe the galaxy – located in the Sculptor constellation – was once a normal spiral galaxy, but a collision with a smaller galaxy created the wagon wheel effect.
The pink image is a composite from Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) which is the main camera, and the Mid Infrared Instrument (MIRI). You can see the MIRI data in red in the composite image above, and in blue in the photo below.
The Cartwheel Galaxy has three companions… G1 – the smaller irregular spiral at the top and G2 – the compact spiral at the bottom. The third companion is further away and can’t be seen in this image.
Finally, the image below shows what Hubble’s version of the Cartwheel Galaxy cluster looks like.
At the risk of making Hubble’s incredible feats over the last 30 years seem like a ‘before image’, JWST is able to see in infrared so it’s able to see further into the galaxy. In this case it’s been able to be highlight the ‘spokes’ of the wheel, and the galaxies central black hole.
You can learn more about these images, and download uncompressed versions here.
Jacinta Bowler is a science journalist at Cosmos. They have a undergraduate degree in genetics and journalism from the University of Queensland and have been published in the Best Australian Science Writing 2022.
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