Credit: NASA & ESA

We need some bright lights for the holidays. The colors in this image of the Cartwheel Galaxy fits perfectly.

This image combines data from four different orbiting observatories; the Chandra X-ray Observatory, in purple, the Galaxy Evolution Explorer satellite, in blue, the Hubble Space Telescope, in green, and the Spitzer Space Telescope, in red. Astronomers use different satellites to see in different kinds of light. Spitzer’s telescope helps us see objects that are warm while Chandra and GALEX help us see areas with high energy, like black holes and exploded stars.

The Cartwheel Galaxy’s odd shape probably comes from a collision with one of its smaller neighbors millions of years ago. The smaller galaxy’s interaction caused the gas in the main galaxy to squeeze together, or compress, as it plunged through the larger galaxy. This sparked a wave of new star formation, creating millions of new stars. Some of these stars became super massive, exploding as supernovas. We can see their remnants in the image as bright white spots along the outer rim of the galaxy.

The Cartwheel Galaxy is slightly larger than our Milky Way. It lies about 400 million light years away toward the faint southern constellation of Sculptor.