The Cartwheel galaxy unveiled by the Webb telescope – Space & Astronomy

The James Webb space telescope unveils previously unseen details of the slow transformation taking place in the galaxy Cartwheel, so called for its particular aspect. Located 500 million light years in the constellation of the Sculptor, it was born from collision between a large spiral galaxy and another smaller galaxy: the collision generated two rings that expand outward like the ripples created by a stone in the pond. Thanks to the new telescope of NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and Canadian (CSA), it has been possible to identify individual stars and star-forming regions with extreme precision, as well as reveal the behavior of the black hole at the center of the galaxy.

Wagon wheel has a nucleus containing a huge amount of hot powder, with the brightest areas hosting gigantic young star clusters. The outer ring, which has been expanding for about 440 million years, is dominated by star formation and supernovae. As this ring expands, it penetrates the surrounding gas and triggers the birth of new stars.

Other telescopes (including Nasa’s Hubble and ESA’s) had already targeted the Wagon Wheel galaxy, but the large amount of dust surrounding it had prevented us from studying it in detail. Webb, with its ability to detect infrared light, has succeeded where others have failed. Thanks to his Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam), he made it possible to identify single stars and star-forming regions, showing the differences in the distribution of younger stars compared to older ones. Thanks to the MIRI instrument, however, he has identified regions rich in hydrocarbons and other chemical compounds (in addition to silicate dust) that form a series of spiral rays, the ‘skeleton’ of the galaxy.

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