The Pillars of Creation in HD
Years ago, I bought my first astronomy textbook. I was 16 and absolutely thrilled to spend my summer learning about space and all that it contained. I was even more excited when I saw the book was covered in the most beautiful nebula that this world has ever laid eyes on — The Pillars of Creation. It was my first taste with a now long-standing adoration for the Messier Catalog.
From the press release:
Although NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has taken many breathtaking images of the universe, one snapshot stands out from the rest: the iconic view of the so-called “Pillars of Creation.” The jaw-dropping photo, taken in 1995, revealed never-before-seen details of three giant columns of cold gas bathed in the scorching ultraviolet light from a cluster of young, massive stars in a small region of the Eagle Nebula, or M16.
Though such butte-like features are common in star-forming regions, the M16 structures are by far the most photogenic and evocative. The Hubble image is so popular that it has appeared in movies and television shows, on tee-shirts and pillows, and even on a postage stamp. And now, in celebration of its 25th anniversary, Hubble has revisited the famous pillars, providing astronomers with a sharper and wider view, shown in the right-hand image. For comparison, the original 1995 Hubble image of the gaseous towers appears in the left-hand view. Streamers of gas can be seen bleeding off pillars as the intense radiation heats and evaporates it into space. Stars are being born deep inside the pillars.
These images by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope reveal how different the iconic Pillars of Creation appear in visible and in near-infrared light. In the visible-light image at left, astronomers combined several exposures to show a wider view of the pillars and the surrounding region. The towering pillars are about 5 light-years tall. The tenuous-looking base of the columns is shown.
The near-infrared image at right transforms the pillars into eerie, wispy silhouettes, which are seen against a background of myriad stars. The near-infrared light can penetrate much of the gas and dust, revealing stars behind the nebula as well as hidden away inside the pillars. Some of the gas and dust clouds are so dense that even the near-infrared light cannot penetrate them. New stars embedded in the tops of the pillars, however, are apparent as bright sources that are unseen in the visible image.
Both images were taken with Hubble’s versatile Wide Field Camera 3. For the near-infrared image, astronomers used filters that isolate the light from newly formed stars, which are invisible in the visible-light image. At these wavelengths, astronomers are seeing through the pillars and even through the back wall of the nebula cavity and can see the next generations of stars just as they’re starting to emerge from their formative nursery. In the visible-light image, oxygen is represented in blue, sulfur in orange, and hydrogen and nitrogen in green.
Full Press Release: STScI-2015-01