Overview:

New photos from the James Webb Space Telescope have revealed the cartwheel galaxy.

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The Cartwheel Galaxy is not having a good eon.

A new infrared image from the James Webb Space Telescope shows the aptly-named galaxy distorted by a “high-speed collision” with another, smaller galaxy in the Sculptor constellation, 500 million light-years away. The resulting distention of the structure of the Cartwheel galaxy has been characterized by NASA observers as “chaos”:

Collisions of galactic proportions cause a cascade of different, smaller events between the galaxies involved; the Cartwheel is no exception…Webb’s observations underscore that the Cartwheel is in a very transitory stage. The galaxy, which was presumably a normal spiral galaxy like the Milky Way before its collision, will continue to transform. While Webb gives us a snapshot of the current state of the Cartwheel, it also provides insight into what happened to this galaxy in the past and how it will evolve in the future.

The photo is a composite of two of the four JWST cameras- the MIRI (separate image here) and the NIRcam, which views the universe in the near-infrared range from 0.6 to 5 microns and shows details never before seen.

The infrared clarity and detail of this image is in contrast to one of humanity’s other great achievements, the Hubble Space Telescope, which views optical light as we see it naturally, and captured this image of the Cartwheel Galaxy. While Hubble’s Cartwheel is beautiful in its own right, contrasting the two images allows profound reflections on space-time

The James Webb Space Telescope may answer many of our deepest scientific questions in the coming months and years. More interesting perhaps is what the telescope cannot answer for us, such as whether life exists on exoplanets. Though by studying the atmospheric signatures of such planets, even those answers may be brought closer by JWST.

David Weidman is the regional coordinator for SMART Recovery (Self-Management And Recovery Training) in Los Angeles with over 5,000 hours of in-person meetings for sufferers and their loved ones. SMART...