The James Webb Space Telescope takes aim at one of the universe’s strangest galaxies

The James Webb Space Telescope takes aim at one of the universe’s strangest galaxies

The James Webb Space Telescope continues to provide images of some of the most unusual features in space.

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

“Its appearance, resembling the wheel of a chariot, 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. “Galactic-scale collisions cause a cascade of various smaller events between the galaxies involved; the wagon wheel is no exception.”

The space agencies released several images, including this near-infrared camera (NIRCam) and mid-infrared instrument (MIRI) composite:

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

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

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

“The cartwheel consists of two rings, a bright inner ring and a colorful outer ring,” the Space Telescope Science Institute, which oversees the telescope’s science and mission operations, said in a press release. “Both rings propagate from the collision center like shock waves.”

These so-called ring galaxies are much rarer than spiral galaxies like our own Milky Way.

NASA said the bright core contains hot dust and “gigantic young star clusters,” while the outer ring — which has been expanding for 440 million years — shows the formation of new stars and supernovae.

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

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

This image from Webb's Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) shows a cluster of galaxies, including a large distorted annular galaxy known as Cartwheel.  Located 500 million light-years away in the Sculptor constellation, the Cartwheel Galaxy consists of a bright inner ring and an active outer ring.  While this outer ring shows much star formation, the dusty area in between shows many stars and star clusters.  The mid-infrared light captured by MIRI reveals fine details about these dusty regions and young stars within the Cartwheel Galaxy, which are rich in hydrocarbons and other chemical compounds, as well as silicate dust, like much of Earth's dust.  Young stars, many of which are present in the lower right of the outer ring, excite the surrounding hydrocarbon dust, making it glow orange.  On the other hand, the well-defined dust between the core and the outer ring that forms the spokes that give the galaxy its name consists mostly of silicate dust.  The smaller spiral galaxy to the upper left of Cartwheel exhibits much the same behavior, showing a large amount of star formation.  (Photo: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO Production Team)

This image from Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) shows a cluster of galaxies, including a large distorted annular galaxy known as Cartwheel. Located 500 million light-years away in the Sculptor constellation, the Cartwheel Galaxy consists of a bright inner ring and an active outer ring. While this outer ring shows much star formation, the dusty area in between shows many stars and star clusters. The mid-infrared light captured by MIRI reveals fine details about these dusty regions and young stars within the Cartwheel Galaxy, which are rich in hydrocarbons and other chemical compounds, as well as silicate dust, like much of Earth’s dust. Young stars, many of which are present in the lower right of the outer ring, excite the surrounding hydrocarbon dust, making it glow orange. On the other hand, the well-defined dust between the core and the outer ring that forms the spokes that give the galaxy its name consists mostly of silicate dust. The smaller spiral galaxy to the upper left of Cartwheel exhibits much the same behavior, showing a large amount of star formation. (Photo: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO Production Team)

This image from Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) shows a cluster of galaxies, including a large distorted annular galaxy known as Cartwheel. Located 500 million light-years away in the Sculptor constellation, the Cartwheel Galaxy consists of a bright inner ring and an active outer ring. While this outer ring shows much star formation, the dusty area in between shows many stars and star clusters. The mid-infrared light captured by MIRI reveals fine details about these dusty regions and young stars within the Cartwheel Galaxy, which are rich in hydrocarbons and other chemical compounds, as well as silicate dust, like much of Earth’s dust. Young stars, many of which are present in the lower right of the outer ring, excite the surrounding hydrocarbon dust, making it glow orange. On the other hand, the well-defined dust between the core and the outer ring that forms the spokes that give the galaxy its name consists mostly of silicate dust. The smaller spiral galaxy to the upper left of Cartwheel exhibits much the same behavior, showing a large amount of star formation. (Photo: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO Production Team)

“Young stars, many of which are present in the lower right of the outer ring, are energizing the surrounding hydrocarbon dust and making it glow orange,” the Space Telescope Science Institute said in a press release. “On the other hand, the well-defined dust between the core and the outer ring that forms the ‘spokes’ that give the galaxy its name consists mostly of silicate dust.”

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

Located 500 million light-years away in the Sculptor constellation, the galaxy looks like a wagon wheel.  The core of the galaxy is the bright object in the center of the image;  The spoke-like structures are scraps of material that connect the core to the outer ring of young stars.  The galaxy's unusual configuration resulted from an almost head-on 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 Sculptor constellation, the galaxy looks like a wagon wheel. The core of the galaxy is the bright object in the center of the image; The spoke-like structures are scraps of material that connect the core to the outer ring of young stars. The galaxy’s unusual configuration resulted from an almost head-on 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 Sculptor constellation, the galaxy looks like a wagon wheel. The core of the galaxy is the bright object in the center of the image; The spoke-like structures are scraps of material that connect the core to the outer ring of young stars. The galaxy’s unusual configuration resulted from an almost head-on 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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