Video Puts Into Perspective How Far Away James Webb’s Camera Can See

The European Space Agency (ESA) has published a video that puts into perspective just how far away the latest target of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the Cartwheel Galaxy, is.

On August 2, the Webb Team published a gorgeous high-resolution photo of the Cartwheel Galaxy, a rare ring galaxy that was formed as a result of a collision between a large spiral galaxy and another smaller galaxy.

“This image of the Cartwheel and its companion galaxies is a composite from Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI), which reveals details that are difficult to see in the individual images alone,” the ESA explains.

The galaxy, which astronomers believe was presumably a normal spiral galaxy like the Milky Way before its collision, will continue to transform.

“Webb’s observations capture Cartwheel in a very transitory stage. The form that the Cartwheel Galaxy will eventually take, given these two competing forces, is still a mystery. However, this snapshot provides perspective on what happened to the galaxy in the past and what it will do in the future.”

The video above starts with a wide view of space before slowly zooming in to one area and revealing the gorgeous galaxy, which puts into perspective just how far away the JWST is capable of looking into the universe.

Cartwheel Galaxy

The Cartwheel Galaxy is located about 500 million light-years away in the Sculptor constellation and even amongst the huge number of celestial objects in the sky, its appearance is a rare sight. The galaxy is shaped like a wagon wheel and the aforementioned collision that created it notably affected its shape and structure. Because of these distinctive features, astronomers call this a “ring galaxy,” a structure less common than spiral galaxies like our Milky Way.

“The bright core contains a tremendous amount of hot dust with the brightest areas being the home to gigantic young star clusters,” the Webb team explains. “On the other hand, the outer ring, which has expanded for about 440 million years, is dominated by star formation and supernovas. As this ring expands, it plows into surrounding gas and triggers star formation.”

Webb is able to resolve much more detail than Hubble, which is visible in a comparison between two images of the Cartwheel Galaxy captured by each.

“Webb’s high-precision instruments resolved individual stars and star-forming regions within the Cartwheel, and revealed the behavior of the black hole within its galactic center,” the Webb team says.

“These new details provide a renewed understanding of a galaxy in the midst of a slow transformation.”

Image credits: ESA/Webb, NASA, CSA, STScI, Dark Energy Survey/DOE/FNAL/DECam/CTIO/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA, E. Slawik, N. Risinger, N. Bartmann, M. Zamani