With a wealth of new data from the James Webb Space Telescope, we can all look forward to more stunning images of space objects, such as the recently released image showing the stunning Wheel Galaxy . Galaxies appear in many ways, from faintly distant galaxies that are only visible as fuzzy blobs to those close to the Milky Way where you can see individual stars and study their composition and age. If you look closely, these galaxies can take many shapes, from spiral galaxies similar to our own to long, thin ellipticals.
The Wheel Galaxy stands apart from the crowd, however, due to its distinctive wagon wheel-like shape. Named for its bright central region and many outstretched arms, it was formed when two galaxies collided – a large spiral galaxy and a smaller one, altering the eventual merger that resulted from the collision The structure of galaxies (via ESA).
The Milky Way, about 500 million light-years away, was once a mystery because astronomers had a hard time seeing through the massive dust in the Milky Way, which blocks visible light. But instruments on the James Webb Space Telescope can see infrared wavelengths, which means they can see through dust to structures that would otherwise be hidden. The image is a composite of data taken using Webb’s near-infrared camera, or NIRCam, in the 0.6 to 5 micron range, and the mid-infrared instrument, or MIRI, in the 5 to 28 micron range.
Learn from the wheel
This Data from both instruments is necessary to construct a more complete picture of the Milky Way. The NIRCam data, shown in blue, orange and yellow in the composite image, particularly clearly shows the bright young stars in the galaxy’s outer ring. The blue area shows where new stars are born (via ESA).
MIRI data can show the composition of parts of a galaxy, such as regions of hydrocarbon and silicate dust. The MIRI image also shows “spokes” radiating outward from the galaxy’s central region.
The unusual structure of the galaxy can be seen more clearly in the MIRI image, where you can see an inner ring near the center and an outer ring around the edge of the galaxy. The rings were created by a collision between two primordial galaxies that formed the current galaxies when the massive event sent shock waves. This structure means that galaxies, known as ring galaxies, are among the rarest.
The Wheel Galaxy will also continue to change and evolve over time. “Webb’s observations suggest that the wheel is in a very short-lived phase,” the ESA scientists wrote. “This galaxy may have been a normal spiral galaxy like the Milky Way before the collision, and it will continue to transform. Although Webb is for us Provides a snapshot of the current state of the wheel, but it also provides insight into how this galaxy has developed in the past and in the future.”