The Webb Space Telescope continues to release stunning new photos with each passing day it's in operation. Tuesday, NASA unveiled a stunning new photograph of the Cartwheel Galaxy, a massive pink cosmic cloud some 500 million light-years away. Located in the Sculptor constellation, scientists think the galaxy was once two separate galaxies before the larger managed to swallow up the smaller.
"We believe this galaxy started as a spiral galaxy before it collided with a smaller galaxy hundreds of millions of years ago," a NASA social media post says of the photo. "Now, it's made up of 2 rings — a bright inner ring and a surrounding, colorful ring. Both expand outwards from the center like pond ripples.
The image releases is a composite snapshot using data from two of the space observatory's instruments — the NIRCam and MIRI. The Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) was added aboard the space-faring telescope to help discover previously unseen stars while the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) seeks out cosmic regions full of hydrocarbons and other similar chemical compounds.
"Webb's observations underscore that the Cartwheel is in a very transitory stage," the space agency adds. "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 Cartwheel Galaxy was previously observed by the Hubble Space Telescope, but remained partially hidden due to the cosmic dust in the way. Because the Webb Space Telescope is able to detect infrared light, researchers working with Webb were able to capture a a higher quality image than the observatory's predecessor.