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JWST Tracks Individual Stars And Star-Formation In Gorgeous Cartwheel Galaxy

The space telescope's new image reveals the considerable activity happening in this galaxy.


Dr. Alfredo Carpineti

Senior Staff Writer & Space Correspondent

clockAug 2 2022, 17:12 UTC
The gorgeous new image of the Cartwheel galaxy by JWST
The gorgeous new image of the Cartwheel and its companion galaxies. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO Production Team

The Cartwheel galaxy is a beautiful cosmic object. A rare ring galaxy located 500 million light-years from us, its bright central core is connected to the outer ring by strands of stars, gas, and dust. New observations by JWST reveal that those dusty tendrils are full of new stars being born.

The cartwheel galaxy is a testament to how messy things can get when it comes to galaxy collisions. It used to be a spiral galaxy that became a victim of a hit and run. Another galaxy, not visible in this image, had a close interaction with it, altering its shape into what we see today. It went through a head-on bullseye-style collision with a smaller companion a few hundred million years before the light we are seeing reached Earth.

To the right a large pink and blue spinwheel galaxy next tot a softer blue much smaller one and a bright pink litle one in space
The JWST NIRCam and MIRI composite image of the Cartwheel galaxy in all its glory. Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO Production Team

As the JWST reveals, the changes are much deeper. At the center of the Cartwheel galaxy, there is a supermassive black hole surrounded by a bright disk of hot gas and a much larger colorful disk full of new stars and supernovae. The rings are expanding outwards and they are connected by “spokes”, which are particularly visible in the JWST images. This shows that the galaxy is trying to create spiral arms once again.

The image is a combination of mid-infrared observations, in red, which highlight the presence of cool dust rich in hydrocarbons and other chemical compounds, as well as near-infrared, which show the other structures of the galaxy. The regions in blue are those with individual stars or those where new stars are being born.

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