The James Webb Space Telescope has captured a new image of the Cartwheel Galaxy – alongside two smaller companion galaxies – which was created as the result of an intergalactic collision.
The orbiting observatory was launched last December and recently released a full set of new observations, including what is said to be the “deepest” and most detailed picture of the cosmos to date.
The newest observation of the Cartwheel Galaxy offers scientists at NASA clues about how the bizarre sight was actually formed.
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Researchers believe that it looks a bit like a cartwheel because it was formed by “an intense event – a high-speed collision between a large spiral galaxy and a smaller galaxy not visible in this image”.
They add: “Collisions of galactic proportions cause a cascade of different, smaller events between the galaxies involved; the Cartwheel is no exception.”
Its unusual shape features two obvious rings, a bright internal one and another colourful ring on its outside.
These rings are expanding outward from the centre of the galactic collision “like ripples in a pond after a stone is tossed into it”.
It is these distinctive features which have led astronomers to define the Cartwheel Galaxy as a ring galaxy, one of the rarest galactic structures that we see from Earth.
The bright core of the galaxy – the hub of the wheel – “contains a tremendous amount of hot dust with the brightest areas being the home to gigantic young star clusters” according to NASA.
“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 ploughs into surrounding gas and triggers star formation.”