It’s been running scientific operations for less than a month, but NASA’s James Webb is once again amazed with his view of the universe.
The super space telescope now has peered into the chaos of the Cartwheel Galaxy, revealing new details about star formation and the galaxy’s central black hole.
Its powerful infrared gaze produced a detailed image of the Cartwheel and two smaller companion galaxies against a backdrop of many other galaxies.
About 500 million light-years away in the constellation Sculptor, the Cartwheel Galaxy is a rare sight.
Its appearance, like that of a chariot wheel, 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.
Other telescopes, including the Hubble Space Telescope, have previously explored the Cartwheel.
But the dramatic galaxy is shrouded in mystery—perhaps literally, given the amount of dust obscuring view.
Fireworks: The James Webb Space Telescope is again stunning with its view of the universe. It peered into the chaos of the Cartwheel Galaxy (pictured) and revealed new details about star formation and the galaxy’s central black hole
This image from Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) shows a group of galaxies, including a large distorted annular galaxy known as the Cartwheel
INSTRUMENTS ON THE JAMES WEBB TELESCOPE
NIRCam (Near InfraRed Camera) an infrared camera from the edge of the visible through the near infrared
NIR specification (Near InfraRed Spectrograph) will also perform spectroscopy over the same wavelength range.
MIRIA (Mid-InfraRed Instrument) measures the mid-to-long infrared wavelength range from 5 to 27 micrometers.
FGS/NIRISS (Fine Guidance Sensor and Near Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph), is used to stabilize the observatory’s line of sight during scientific observations.
Webb, with its ability to detect infrared light, is now revealing new insights into the nature of the Cartwheel.
Webb’s primary camera, the Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam), looks in the near-infrared range of 0.6 to 5 microns and sees crucial wavelengths of light that can reveal even more stars than seen in visible light.
This is because young stars, many of which form in the outer ring, are less obscured by the presence of dust when observed in infrared light. In this image, NIRCam data is colored blue, orange, and yellow.
The galaxy shows many individual blue dots, which are individual stars or star-forming cavities.
NIRCam also reveals the difference between the smooth distribution or shape of the older stellar populations and dense core dust compared to the lumpy shapes associated with the younger stellar populations out there.
The $10 billion (£7.4 billion) observatory image also offers a new look at how the Cartwheel Galaxy has changed over billions of years.
Collisions of galactic proportions cause a cascade of several smaller events between the galaxies involved; the Cartwheel is no exception.
The collision particularly affected the shape and structure of the galaxy.
The Cartwheel Galaxy has two rings – a clear inner ring and a surrounding, colorful ring. These rings expand outward from the center of impact, like ripples in a pond after a rock is thrown into it.
Because of these distinctive features, astronomers call it a “ring galaxy,” a structure less common than spiral galaxies like our Milky Way.
The bright core contains a huge amount of hot dust, with the brightest regions home to gigantic young star clusters.
On the other hand, the outer ring, which has expanded for about 440 million years, is dominated by star formation and supernovae. As this ring expands, it plows into the surrounding gas, causing star formation.
Webb’s infrared capabilities allow it to look “back in time” to the Big Bang, which happened 13.8 billion years ago. Light waves move extremely fast, about 300,000 km per second, per second. The further away an object is, the further we look back in time. This is due to the time it takes for light to travel from the object to us
The $10 billion (£7.4 billion) observatory (pictured) provided a new picture of how the Cartwheel Galaxy has changed over billions of years
However, learning finer details about the dust that inhabits the galaxy requires Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI).
MIRI data is colored red in this composite image, revealing areas in the Cartwheel Galaxy rich in hydrocarbons and other chemical compounds, as well as silicate dust, like much of the dust on Earth.
These areas form a series of spiral spokes that essentially make up the skeleton of the galaxy.
The spokes can be clearly seen in previous Hubble observations released in 2018, but they become much more prominent in this Webb image.
While Webb gives us a snapshot of the current state of the Cartwheel, it also gives insight into what happened to this galaxy in the past and how it will evolve in the future.
Last month, the telescope’s dazzling, unprecedented images of a “stellar nursery,” dying star shrouded in dust and a “cosmic dance” between a group of galaxies were revealed to the world for the first time.
It ended months of waiting and feverish anticipation as people around the world were treated to the first batch of a trove of images that will culminate in the earliest ever at the beginning of the universe.
Webb’s infrared capabilities mean it can “look back in time” to just 100-200 million years after the Big Bang, allowing it to take pictures of the very first stars that shone in the universe more than 13.5 billion years ago.
The first images of nebulae, an exoplanet and galaxy clusters caused a big celebration in the scientific world, on what was hailed as a “great day for humanity.”
Researchers will soon learn about the masses, ages, histories and compositions of the galaxies, as Webb tries to explore the earliest galaxies in the universe.
The James Webb telescope: NASA’s $10 billion telescope is designed to detect light from the earliest stars and galaxies
The James Webb telescope has been described as a “time machine” that could help unravel the secrets of our universe.
The telescope will be used to look back at the first galaxies born in the early universe more than 13.5 billion years ago, and to observe the sources of stars, exoplanets and even the moons and planets of our solar system.
The massive telescope, which has already cost more than $7 billion (£5 billion), is thought to be a successor to the orbiting Hubble space telescope
The James Webb telescope and most of its instruments have an operating temperature of about 40 Kelvin – about minus 387 Fahrenheit (minus 233 Celsius).
It is the world’s largest and most powerful orbital space telescope, capable of peering back 100-200 million years after the Big Bang.
The orbiting infrared observatory is designed to be about 100 times more powerful than its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope.
NASA likes to think of James Webb as a successor to Hubble rather than a replacement, as the two will be working together for a while.
The Hubble Telescope was launched on April 24, 1990 via the space shuttle Discovery from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
It orbits the Earth at a speed of about 27,300 km/h in low Earth orbit at an altitude of about 340 miles.