James Webb telescope snaps mesmerizing image of Cartwheel Galaxy

A composite image of the Cartwheel Galaxy and two smaller companion galaxies.
A composite image of the Cartwheel Galaxy and two smaller companion galaxies. (Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI)

A stunning new image from the James Webb Space Telescope captures the gorgeous Cartwheel Galaxy in never-before-seen detail. The telescope's composite image, released Tuesday (Aug. 2) furthers our understanding of the peculiar wheel-like star system.

The Cartwheel Galaxy is a chaotic galaxy shrouded in hot dust, 500 million light-years from Earth. And it hides a violent past.

"Its appearance, much like that of the wheel of a wagon, 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 representatives said in a statement

While the Cartwheel Galaxy has a cartwheel shape now, the galaxy was likely a spiral similar to the Milky Way before the collision. The collision took place at the center of the Cartwheel Galaxy, which created two visible rings that spread out from the impact site. The bright, inner ring teems with hot dust and clusters of young stars, while the outer ring is home to newborn stars and supernovas, according to the statement. Some of the original spiral features are still visible as streaks between the two rings. 

Related: Webb space telescope has just imaged another most-distant galaxy, breaking its record after a week 

The latest image reveals what's happening to this galactic acrobat as it is reshaped by the collision. 

Two smaller, companion galaxies sit to the left of the Cartwheel Galaxy, with many more galaxies in the background. 

While the Hubble Space Telescope also captured images of the Cartwheel Galaxy, the James Webb Space Telescope's infrared camera reveals more stars than could be seen in visible light. That's because young stars are easier to see through dust when viewed under infrared light, according to the statement. 

The James Webb Space Telescope launched on Dec. 25, 2021 as the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. The new NASA telescope can find objects 100 times fainter than Hubble could detect. 

Originally published on Live Science.

Patrick Pester
Live Science Contributor

Patrick Pester is a freelance writer and previously a staff writer at Live Science. His background is in wildlife conservation and he has worked with endangered species around the world. Patrick holds a master's degree in international journalism from Cardiff University in the U.K.