A star is born and the James Webb Telescope has captured it in stunning detail


In a stunning photo taken by the new James Webb Space Telescope, NASA has released a new view of the Pillars of Creation, the subject of one of the most famous images in the history of outer space art. -atmospheric.

The Pillars of Creation are a small portion of the Eagle Nebula or Queen Star Nebula – officially known as Messier 16 – an open cluster of stars in the constellation Serpens, about 6 500 light years from Earth.

Discovered by Swiss astronomer Jean-Philippe de Cheseaux in 1745, the nebula rose to fame in 1995, when Hubble released the first image of the Pillars of Creation, showing young stars forming amid columns of hydrogen gas and of dust called “elephant trunks”. supporting pillars.

When NASA first unveiled the original photo, which the New York Times called “great deep space art” – it acknowledged the eerie nature of the otherworldly landscape, offering several suggestions of what we might be looking at. “Underwater Corral?” Enchanted castles? Space snakes?

In reality, stalwarts are incubators for new stars; As they form, stars release a stream of ultraviolet light that burns clouds in a process called “photo-evaporation.” The cliff-like formations can also be seen inside the larger Eagle Nebula in a 2008 Hubble composite image that includes other nearby features, such as the stellar spire.

When the Webb team was considering possible observing targets for the new telescope, returning to the Eagle Nebula was an easy choice.

“By popular demand, we had to do the Pillars of Creation,” Webb astronomer Klaus Pontoppidan wrote on Twitter.

A composite of Hubble Space Telescope images of the Eagle Nebula, with overlays of a 2005 photo of the fairy or stellar spire, the 1995 view of the Pillars of Creation, and two star cluster details stars from 2008. Photo courtesy of NASA, STScI, Hubble Space Telescope, ESA.

“Along the edges of the pillars are wavy lines that look like lava. These are ejections from stars that are still forming,” the European Space Agency wrote in a statement about the new image. “Young stars periodically launch jets that can interact in clouds of matter, like these thick pillars of gas and dust.”

“The pillars look like arches and spiers rising out of a desert landscape, but are filled with semi-transparent, ever-changing gas and dust,” the Webb team wrote with the photo post. “The newly formed stars are the scene stealers.”

For the 20th anniversary of the Pillars of Creation image in 2015, Hubble released a new snapshot of the star forming region, improving detail and eliminating gaps in the original left by differences in magnification capabilities. between individual Hubble cameras. The result was a whopping 33 megabyte file which is nevertheless dwarfed by Webb’s new version, which weighs in at 163 megabytes.

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope made the Pillars of Creation famous with its first image in 1995, but revisited the scene in 2014 to reveal a sharper, wider view in visible light, pictured above left.  A new view in near-infrared light from NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, right, helps us see through more dust in this star-forming region.  The thick, dusty brown pillars are no longer as opaque, and many more red stars that are still forming appear.  Courtesy of NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI;  Joseph DePasquale (STScI), Anton M. Koekemoer (STScI), Alyssa Pagan (STScI).

A new near-infrared view of the Eagle Nebula’s creation pillars from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. Courtesy of NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI; Joseph DePasquale (STScI), Anton M. Koekemoer (STScI), Alyssa Pagan (STScI).

“While the pillars of gas and dust appear darker and less penetrable to Hubble’s eyes, they appear more diaphanous to Webb,” NASA noted in a statement. “By penetrating dusty pillars, Webb also allows us to identify stars that have recently broken free or are about to break free.”

The new Pillars of Creation image differs from well-known Hubble versions not only because of its increased size and resolution, but also because it was imaged in infrared rather than visual light, which helps to breaking through the nebula’s thick dust clouds. Hubble has limited infrared capabilities and used it to observe the Pillars of Creation in 2014, creating another interesting point of comparison with the new Webb image.

NASA hopes that by identifying an unprecedented number of stars – some of which are only a few hundred thousand years old – in the Pillars of Creation, Webb’s new image will help give scientists “a better understanding how stars form and explode. these dusty clouds for millions of years.

The Eagle Nebula’s Pillars of Creation captured in infrared light by the Hubble Space Telescope. Courtesy of NASA, ESA/Hubble and Hubble Heritage Team.

Our understanding of the Pillars of Creation has changed over the years. For a time, astronomers believed that a supernova actually destroyed the starscape around 6,000 years ago. But as of 2018, the latest understanding is that the gas clouds are still there, continuing to slowly fade over time as new stars form.

Webb’s primary mission is to investigate the origins of our universe, using his infrared abilities to peer into the outermost edges of space, where receding stars have become redshifted.

Findings in this area have already baffled scientists’ expectations, revealing distant galaxies that are surprisingly large, bright and well-structured.

The first image from the James Webb Space Telescope was this

The first image from the James Webb Space Telescope was this “Deep Field” image of galaxies formed over 13 billion years ago. Courtesy of NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO.

“The models just don’t predict that,” said Garth Illingworth, an astronomer at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Washington Post. “How do you do that in-universe at such an early time? How do you form so many stars so quickly?

But Webb has also been busy observing objects closer to home, including those in our own solar systems, such as Jupiter and Ganymede, the planet’s largest moon. Within hours, Webb can send back images of opposite ends of the universe, spiral galaxies, mysterious exoplanets and even comets heading towards the sun. (His first images so far have been nothing short of spellbinding.)

The new $10 billion telescope was launched last year on Christmas Day and has traveled 1 million miles to L2, a Lagrange point of intersecting gravitational fields where Webb can stay in a constant orbit with only minor adjustments and fuel production.

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