Behold the Cartwheel Galaxy! NASA showcases another dazzling James Webb image

NASA says the new image offers 'a snapshot of the galaxy’s current state, but also a peek into its past and future'.
Chris Young
The image of the Cartwheel GalaxyNASA, ESA, CSA, STScI
  • NASA reveals its newest James Webb Space Telescope image.
  • The Cartwheel Galaxy was previously captured by the Hubble Space Telescope.
  • The new high-detail image provides new insight into the black hole at the galaxy's center.

NASA has revealed a new James Webb image showing the "chaos" of the Cartwheel Galaxy.

The U.S. Space agency just unveiled the latest image from the $10 billion infrared space observatory, stating that it provides "a peek into [the galaxy's] past and future".

NASA says the new image reveals new details about star formation as well as the black hole at the center of the Cartwheel Galaxy. Webb’s powerful infrared instruments produced the incredibly detailed image. It’s another impressive showcase of the space observatory’s power, after it started science operations last month.

Peering into the 'chaos' of the Cartwheel Galaxy

The new image highlights the Cartwheel Galaxy and two smaller galaxies. It’s worth noting though that, much like in James Webb’s historic first image, all those smaller objects in the background are also galaxies.

Since it started science operations, NASA has released a steady stream of new James Webb data, including the observatory's first observation of a supernova. Now, NASA says its new images of the Cartwheel Galaxy provide unprecedented insight into the evolution of that particular region of space. The Galaxy is located approximately 500 million light-years away in the Sculptor constellation.

Behold the Cartwheel Galaxy! NASA showcases another dazzling James Webb image
The image from Webb's NIRCam (left) and from its Mid-Infrared Instrument (right).)
NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO Production Team

As NASA explains in its blog post, the galaxy's resemblance to a wagon wheel is the result of an ancient collision between itself and a smaller galaxy. Essentially, that means we're seeing the result of a massive galactic merger. According to NASA, “the Cartwheel Galaxy sports two rings — a bright inner ring and a surrounding, colorful ring. These two rings expand outwards from the center of the collision, like ripples in a pond after a stone is tossed into it.” This “ring galaxy” type, with its unique features, is much rarer than spiral galaxies like the Milky Way.

James Webb versus Hubble comparison

As with other images taken by James Webb, a side-by-side comparison with older Hubble images highlights the new detail Webb uncovers. James Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) has a unique ability to peer through the cosmic dust that hides much of the detail in Hubble’s earlier image.

Behold the Cartwheel Galaxy! NASA showcases another dazzling James Webb image
The Cartwheel Galaxy captured by Hubble.
Curt Struck, Philip Appleton, Kirk Borne, Ray Lucas, NASA/ESA

NASA explains that the outer ring of the Cartwheel Galaxy, which has expanded for approximately 440 million years, is dominated by star formation and supernovas. That’s because, as the ring expands, it interacts with surrounding gas to trigger star formation. Webb’s NIRCam reveals these evolving areas in impressive new detail. This, according to the U.S. space agency, means that the new image reveals the galaxy’s history while also indicating how it will continue to evolve in the future. Stay posted for more new updates on James Webb, which will continue to reveal precious new insight into the evolution of galaxies and the early universe in the coming months and years.

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