The James Webb Space Telescope Focuses on One of the Strangest Galaxies in the Universe

The James Webb Space Telescope continues to produce images of some of the more unusual features of deep space.

This week, NASA and its partners released new images of what it called a “rare” feature: the rings and rays of the Cartwheel Galaxy, about 500 million light-years from Earth in the constellation of the Sculptor.

“Its appearance, much like that of a wagon wheel, is the result of an intense event – a high-speed collision between a large spiral galaxy and a smaller galaxy not visible in this image,” NASA said in a press release. . “Collisions of galactic proportions cause a cascade of different and smaller events between the galaxies involved; Cartwheel is no exception.”

Space agencies have released several images, including this composite of the Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI):

Cartwheel Galaxy (Photo: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO Production Team)

Cartwheel Galaxy (Photo: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO Production Team)

“The Cartwheel is made up of two rings, a bright inner ring and a colored outer ring,” said the Space Telescope Science Institute, which handles science and mission operation for the telescope, in a press release. “Both rings expand outward from the collision center like shock waves.”

These ring galaxies, as they are known, are much less common than spiral galaxies like our Milky Way.

NASA said the glowing core contains hot dust and “giant clusters of young stars”, while the outer ring – which has been expanding for 440 million years – features new stars forming and supernovas.

“What shape the Cartwheel Galaxy will eventually take, given these two competing forces, is still a mystery,” said the Space Telescope Science Institute. “However, this snapshot provides a perspective on what happened to the galaxy in the past and what it will do in the future.”

Here is the image of the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) only:

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 constellation Sculptor, is composed of a bright inner ring and an active outer ring.  Although this outer ring has a lot of star formation, the dusty area between them reveals many stars and star clusters.  hydrocarbons and other chemical compounds, as well as silicate dust, like much of the dust on Earth.  Young stars, many of which are present in the lower right corner of the outer ring, energize the surrounding hydrocarbon dust, causing it to glow orange.  On the other hand, the clearly defined dust between the core and the outer ring, which forms the rays that inspire the galaxy's name, is mostly silicate dust.  The smaller spiral galaxy in the upper left corner of the Cartwheel exhibits much of the same behavior, showing a lot of star formation.  (Photo: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO Production Team)

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 constellation Sculptor, is composed of a bright inner ring and an active outer ring. Although this outer ring has a lot of star formation, the dusty area between them reveals many stars and star clusters. hydrocarbons and other chemical compounds, as well as silicate dust, like much of the dust on Earth. Young stars, many of which are present in the lower right corner of the outer ring, energize the surrounding hydrocarbon dust, causing it to glow orange. On the other hand, the clearly defined dust between the core and the outer ring, which forms the rays that inspire the galaxy’s name, is mostly silicate dust. The smaller spiral galaxy in the upper left corner of the Cartwheel exhibits much of the same behavior, showing a lot of star formation. (Photo: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO Production Team)

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 constellation Sculptor, is composed of a bright inner ring and an active outer ring. Although this outer ring has a lot of star formation, the dusty area between them reveals many stars and star clusters. hydrocarbons and other chemical compounds, as well as silicate dust, like much of the dust on Earth. Young stars, many of which are present in the lower right corner of the outer ring, energize the surrounding hydrocarbon dust, causing it to glow orange. On the other hand, the clearly defined dust between the core and the outer ring, which forms the rays that inspire the galaxy’s name, is mostly silicate dust. The smaller spiral galaxy in the upper left corner of the Cartwheel exhibits much of the same behavior, showing a lot of star formation. (Photo: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO Production Team)

“Young stars, many of which are present in the lower right corner of the outer ring, energize the surrounding hydrocarbon dust, causing it to glow orange,” the Space Telescope Science Institute said in a press release. “On the other hand, the clearly defined dust between the core and the outer ring, which forms the ‘rays’ that inspire the galaxy’s name, is mostly silicate dust.”

For comparison, here is a Hubble image of the galaxy captured in 1996:

Located 500 million light-years away in the constellation Sculptor, the galaxy looks like a wagon wheel.  The galaxy's core is the bright object at the center of the image;  ray-like structures are slivers of material that connect the core to the outer ring of young stars.  The galaxy's unusual configuration was created by a near-head collision with a smaller galaxy about 200 million years ago.  (Photo: via Curt Struck and Philip Appleton (Iowa State University), Kirk Borne (Hughes STX Corporation) and Ray Lucas (Space Telescope Science Institute) and NASA/ESA)

Located 500 million light-years away in the constellation Sculptor, the galaxy looks like a wagon wheel. The galaxy’s core is the bright object at the center of the image; ray-like structures are slivers of material that connect the core to the outer ring of young stars. The galaxy’s unusual configuration was created by a near-head collision with a smaller galaxy about 200 million years ago. (Photo: via Curt Struck and Philip Appleton (Iowa State University), Kirk Borne (Hughes STX Corporation) and Ray Lucas (Space Telescope Science Institute) and NASA/ESA)

Located 500 million light-years away in the constellation Sculptor, the galaxy looks like a wagon wheel. The galaxy’s core is the bright object at the center of the image; ray-like structures are slivers of material that connect the core to the outer ring of young stars. The galaxy’s unusual configuration was created by a near-head collision with a smaller galaxy about 200 million years ago. (Photo: via Curt Struck and Philip Appleton (Iowa State University), Kirk Borne (Hughes STX Corporation) and Ray Lucas (Space Telescope Science Institute) and NASA/ESA)

This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.

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