Nearly 30 years ago, the Pillars of Creation stunned the astronomical world when captured by NASA’s famed Hubble Space Telescope.
Now a new generation can enjoy a fresh look at the terrifying scene after James Webb, the US space agency’s $10bn (£7.4bn) super space telescope, has imaged the same finger-like tendrils of gas and dust.
Resembling a ghostly hand, the Pillars of Creation are part of the Eagle Nebula – which is 6,500 light-years from Earth – and are known to be a source of star formation.
This week, NASA and the European Space Agency revealed another look at the pillars from Webb’s keen eyes.
Beautiful: Nearly 30 years ago, the Pillars of Creation stunned the astronomical world when captured by NASA’s famed Hubble Space Telescope. Now a new generation can enjoy a fresh look at the terrifying scene after James Webb, the US space agency’s $10bn (£7.4bn) super space telescope, imaged the same finger-like tendrils of gas and dust (pictured)
The first image of the Pillars of Creation was taken by Hubble in 1995. It provided the first evidence that stars could be born within the pillars.
WHAT ARE THE PILLARS OF CREATION?
They are one of the most iconic space features ever captured on camera.
The Pillars of Creation were first captured in 1995 by NASA’s Hubble telescope and re-imaged in 2014.
Now, nearly 30 years after our first view of the terrifying formation, it has been imaged again by NASA’s new James Webb super space telescope.
Located 6,500 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Serpens, the Pillars of Creation are part of the Eagle Nebula.
They are known as an important source of star formation.
Gas and dust in the claw-like tendrils lead to the birth of stars, including many that are very young and some that are now imaged to be only a few 100,000 years old.
In Hubble’s 1995 image, the blue colors represent oxygen, red is sulfur, and green represents both nitrogen and hydrogen.
The pillars are bathed in scorching ultraviolet light from a cluster of young stars just beyond the field of view.
The winds from these stars slowly erode the towers of gas and dust.
The latest image was taken in mid-infrared light, which blocks the brightness of stars and captures only the flowing gas and dust. This provided a new way to experience and understand the stunning formation.
Webb has instruments that look in different wavelengths of infrared.
In October, experts released a Pillars of Creation image from the Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam), before following it up with an image from the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI).
They’ve now merged the images into a haunting image that shows the best of both views, with glowing dust fringes where young stars are beginning to form.
NIRCam reveals newly formed stars in orange outside the pillars, while MRI shows the dust layers in the formation.
“This is one of the reasons why the region is flooded with stars — dust is a key ingredient of star formation,” NASA said.
The glowing red fingertip on the second pillar suggests active star formation, but the stars are still babies — NASA estimates they’re only a few 100,000 years old.
They take millions of years to fully form.
“Combining images of the iconic Pillars of Creation from two cameras aboard NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has framed the universe in its infrared glory,” the Webb team wrote.
They said it “set this star-forming region on fire with new details.”
When knots of gas and dust of sufficient mass form inside the pillars, they begin to collapse under their own gravity, slowly heat up and eventually form new stars.
“Newly formed stars are especially visible at the edges of the top two pillars – they almost burst onto the scene,” said the Webb team.
“Almost everything you see in this scene is local.
“The distant universe is largely obscured from our view, both by the interstellar medium, which consists of sparse gas and dust between the stars, and by a thick dust lane in our Milky Way galaxy.
“The result is that the stars are central to Webb’s view of the Pillars of Creation.”
The Pillars of Creation are located in the constellation Serpens.
New super space telescope: Webb (pictured) has instruments that look in different wavelengths of infrared
In October, experts released a Pillars of Creation image from the Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam)
They then followed that up with an image from the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI)
This one contains a young hot star cluster, NGC6611, visible with modest backyard telescopes, shaping and illuminating the surrounding gas and dust, resulting in a massive hollowed-out cavity and pillars, each several light years long.
The 1995 Hubble image hinted that new stars were being born within the pillars. Due to obscuring dust, Hubble’s visible-light image couldn’t look in and prove that young stars were forming.
NASA then sent Hubble back for a second visit so they could compare the two images.
Astronomers noticed changes in a jet-like feature streaking away from one of the newborn stars within the pillars.
The jet grew 60 billion miles longer in the time between observations, suggesting material in the jet was traveling at about 450,000 miles per hour.
The James Webb Telescope: NASA’s $10 billion telescope is designed to detect light from the earliest stars and galaxies
The James Webb telescope has been described as a “time machine” that could help unlock the secrets of our universe.
The telescope will be used to look back at the first galaxies born in the early universe more than 13.5 billion years ago, and to observe the sources of stars, exoplanets and even the moons and planets of our solar system.
The massive telescope, which has already cost more than $7bn (£5bn), is thought to be a successor to the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope
The James Webb telescope and most of its instruments have an operating temperature of about 40 Kelvin – about minus 387 Fahrenheit (minus 233 Celsius).
It is the world’s largest and most powerful orbital space telescope, capable of looking back 100-200 million years after the Big Bang.
The orbiting infrared observatory is designed to be about 100 times more powerful than its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope.
NASA likes to think of James Webb as a successor to Hubble rather than a replacement, as the two will be working together for a while.
The Hubble telescope was launched on April 24, 1990 via the space shuttle Discovery from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
It orbits Earth at a speed of about 17,000 mph (27,300 km/h) in low Earth orbit at about 340 miles altitude.