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Wow! Stunning new Pillars of Creation

One of the most beloved Hubble Space Telescope images is called the Pillars of Creation, first captured in 1995. Check out this new Hubble image of the pillars!

View larger. | New view of the Pillars of Creation.  There's evidence to suggest our sun formed in a similar turbulent star-forming region to the one we see in this image.  Image via NASA, ESA/Hubble and the Hubble Heritage Team.

View larger. | New view of the Pillars of Creation, made possible by the Wide Field Camera 3, installed on the Hubble Space Telescope in 2009. There’s evidence to suggest our sun formed in a similar turbulent star-forming region to the one we see in this image. Image via NASA, ESA/Hubble and the Hubble Heritage Team.

One of the most beloved images from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope is this one. It’s called the Pillars of Creation, and Hubble first captured it in 1995. Now Hubble has revisited this part of the sky, and the result is the image above: a clearer-than-ever, stunning view of the giant columns of the Pillars of Creation. Researchers presented this image and its scientific results on January 5, 2015 at the 225th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle, Washington.

The Pillars of Creation is a part of the Eagle Nebula, otherwise known as Messier 16, a region of gas and dust where new stars are forming.

In addition to the new visible-light image, above, Hubble has also produced an image of this region taken in infrared light. The infrared image, below, penetrates much of the obscuring dust and gas and unveils a less familiar view of the pillars, where newborn stars can be seen. These stars are forming within the pillars themselves.

Infrared view of the Pillars of Creation.   Unlike in the visible-light view, this view shows newly born stars, forming from the gas and dust in this region of space.

Infrared view of the Pillars of Creation. Unlike in the visible-light view, this view shows newly born stars, forming from the gas and dust in this region of space. Image via NASA, ESA/Hubble and the Hubble Heritage Team.

The Hubble Space Telescope team explained more in a January 5 press release:

Although the original image was dubbed the “Pillars of Creation”, this new image hints that they are also pillars of destruction. The dust and gas in these pillars is seared by intense radiation from the young stars forming within them, and eroded by strong winds from massive nearby stars. The ghostly bluish haze around the dense edges of the pillars in the visible-light view is material that is being heated by bright young stars and evaporating away.

With these new images come better contrast and clearer views of the region. Astronomers can use these new images to study how the physical structure of the pillars is changing over time. The infrared image shows that the reason the pillars exist is because the very ends of them are dense, and they shadow the gas below them, creating the long, pillar-like structures. The gas in between the pillars has long since been blown away by the winds from a nearby star cluster.

At the top edge of the left-hand pillar, a gaseous fragment has been heated up and is flying away from the structure, highlighting the violent nature of star-forming regions.

These massive stars may be slowly destroying the pillars but they are also the reason Hubble sees the structures at all. They radiate enough ultraviolet light to illuminate the area and make the clouds of oxygen, hydrogen and sulphur glow.

Although structures like these exist throughout the universe, the Pillars of Creation — at a distance of 6500 light-years away — provide the best, and most dramatic, example. Now, these images have allowed us to see them more clearly than ever, proving that at 25 years of age, Hubble is still going strong.

Bottom line: One of the most beloved Hubble Space Telescope images is called the Pillars of Creation, first captured in 1995. Check out this new Hubble image of the pillars, made possible by the Wide Field Camera 3, installed on Hubble in 2009.

Via Hubble

More results from this week’s AAS meeting:

Super-Earths may have long-lasting oceans

How to make an Earth

Slow spin of older stars key in the search for life

Deborah Byrd

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