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James Webb Space Telescope captures stunning image of Cartwheel Galaxy

A stunning image captured by the James Webb Space Telescope has given us the clearest look of the Cartwheel Galaxy so far. 

NASA released the image Tuesday of the distant galaxy — named for its resemblance to a wagon wheel. The Cartwheel Galaxy is located about 500 million light-years away in the Sculptor constellation, the agency said in a press release.

Cartwheel Galaxy,
An image of the distant Cartwheel Galaxy, located about 500 million light-years away in the Sculptor constellation. It was taken by the James Webb Space Telescope.   IMAGE: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO Production Team

The image shows the Cartwheel Galaxy alongside two "smaller companion galaxies, against a backdrop of many other galaxies." The image reveals that the Cartwheel Galaxy has a bright inner ring and a surrounding colorful ring, the result of a high-speed collision between a large spiral galaxy and a smaller galaxy, NASA said. 

According to NASA, the galaxy's right inner ring contains a tremendous amount of hot dust, with the brightest areas holding gigantic young star clusters. The outer ring has been expanding from the center of the collision for around 440 million years. When it expands and hits surrounding gas, stars form. 

The Cartwheel Galaxy, whose rings expand outwards from the center of the collision, is categorized as a "ring galaxy," which are more rare than spiral galaxies like our Milky Way, NASA said.

Cartwheel Galaxy
This image of the Cartwheel and its companion galaxies is a composite from Webb's Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI), which reveals details that are difficult to see in the individual images alone. IMAGE: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO Production Team

NASA had tried to get a clear look at the elusive galaxy, including with the use of the Hubble Space Telescope, but had been unable to because of the amount of dust that obscures the view. However, the advanced Webb Space Telescope, whose Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) can detect infrared light, has clearly captured the young stars forming in the outer ring of the galaxy. 

The image has also provided insight into what happened to the Cartwheel Galaxy in the past and how it is likely to evolve in the future. The galaxy, which was "presumably a normal galaxy like the Milky Way before its collision" is currently in a transitory stage and will continue to transform, NASA said.

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