James Webb telescope takes composite image of annular cartwheel system

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NASA, ESA and the Canadian space agency CSA have published a new image taken from the James Webb Space Telescope. It is a composite photo of the separate Cartwheel System, which is located about 500 million light-years from Earth.

The Cartwheel System was according to the space agencies until now always a bit shrouded in mystery by the large amounts of dust. Hubble has previously also looked at this galaxy, but for example the ‘spokes’ in the wheel are much more visible in the new image. Hubble is therefore much less specialized than James Webb in the infrared part of the spectrum, and that specific capacity is needed to see through dust. The various instruments of the James Webb telescope reveal a number of things. Individual stars and star-forming regions in the galaxy can be seen, for example, and the behavior of a black hole can be seen in the center.

The image is a composite, a composite of data from the Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI). NIRcam is the primary camera for the range from 0.6 to 5μm. MIRI is an instrument, cooled to -266 degrees Celsius, consisting of a camera and a spectrograph and targeting the area from 4.9 to 28.8μm. This instrument can see through dust clouds much better than NIRcam.

The data from only NIRCam (left) and the data from MIRI

In the image below, the NIRCam data is colored blue, orange, and yellow. The necessary individual blue dots are visible; these are stars or areas in which stars form. NIRCam also provides scientists with insight into the difference between the shape of the older stellar populations and the dense dust clouds in the core compared to the clumpy shapes outside it, which are associated with younger stellar populations. The data from MIRI is marked in red. This provides insight into the regions that are rich in hydrocarbons and other chemical compounds.

James Webb’s data makes it clear once again that the Cartwheel System is in a transitional phase. It was believed to have once been a normal galaxy like the Milky Way, but in the past there was a high-speed collision between a large spiral galaxy and a small galaxy not visible in the image. Due to the collision, the shape and structure have changed; there are two rings and astronomers call it a ring galaxy. More than two weeks ago, the space agencies published the first five images of James Webb.

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