JWST | Cartwheel Galaxy

The James Webb Space Telescope provided the most detailed look to date of the Cartwheel Galaxy with the image release on 2 Aug 2022. The galaxy was first observed by the U.K. Schmidt telescope and then by the Anglo-Australian Telescope. It lies about 500 mega lt-yrs from us in the constellation of Sculptor. A much larger and high resolution image is available for you at this link. When there, scroll down and look for Download Options. I will use the detailed image to point out some highlights farther down in this post.

JWST | August 2022

Hubble has imaged the Cartwheel as well. A version from 2010 was reprocessed and released in 2018 showing greater detail than before. The blue color indicates regions of young star formation. A neighboring galaxy shows the same blue colors. In the center of the Cartwheel is the remaining galaxy that was the original ‘target’ of a high speed ‘bullet’ galaxy. The ‘bullet’ is not in the field of view of either the JWST or Hubble images. Astronomers conclude that about 400 million years ago, the ‘bullet’ galaxy collided with and passed through the core of the ‘target’ galaxy. It created a huge amount of gravitational disruption and sent a shock wave outward. The shock wave stimulated the star forming regions we see in blue. The Hubble image also shows faint pinwheel spokes radiating from the inner bright ring to the outer ring.

Hubble | Reprocessed 2018

A much closer look at the JWST image reveals the inner bright core galaxy. Note the bright center core and the glowing star forming regions along the spiral arm in the upper right.

JWST | Inner core

The JWST telescope used two instruments to make the Cartwheel image at the top of this post. One was the Mid-Infrared Instrument MIRI. It reveals fine details about dusty regions and young stars rich in hydrocarbons and other chemical compounds. It also reveals silicate dust, much like the dust on Earth. This MIRI image shows active young star formation in the lower right as well as in the well-defined spokes connecting the inner and outer rings.


The second instrument used by JWST was the Near Infrared Camera NIRCam. NIRCam data are colored blue, orange, and yellow. A closeup of the lower right of the Cartwheel shows many individual blue dots representing individual stars or pockets of star formation.


The smaller spiral galaxy to the left of the Cartwheel also shows the same colorful features. The light blue spiral galaxy show little evidence of young star formation.

Lastly, to the right of the Cartwheel is a good example of the detailed structure of a spiral galaxy. The bright starburst in the upper left is a much closer bright star in the field of view probably within our own Milky Way that is not part of the Cartwheel Galaxy.

And, the final image shows an extremely distant group of galaxies redshifted to orange due to their great distances and rapid recession away from us. JWST sees these examples everywhere.


11 thoughts on “JWST | Cartwheel Galaxy

  1. Astonishing and exciting images.

    I’ve had the good fortune to inspect both of the telescopes you credited as being involved in discovering the Cartwheel, something I was not aware of. The U.K. Schmidt telescope and the Anglo-Australian Telescope are both located at the Australian Astronomical Observatory, here in New South Wales. I understand that nowadays both telescopes are now permanently used for spectroscopy as they have been overtaken by much larger telescopes, such as those in Chile and Hawaii.


    (PS You might wish to amend the distance to the Cartwheel, it should read 500 Mega light years.)

  2. To look out at a a grain of rice extended at arms length and find such enormity. It should make us feel lucky.

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