While scientists at NASA are busy looking into a massive flare that came from the black hole in the Milky Way Galaxy, us laypeople are in awe over a pair of captivating photographs the agency has released of the Eagle Nebula. You might recognize the above image as “The Pillars of Creation,” first taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1995. It was so iconic that became it a symbol of space ephemera for years to come — but look closer, and you’ll see that the photo above isn’t the same one:
Taken some 6,500 light years away, NASA sent in a better camera to the original site of the interstellar gases in 2009 and assembled the composite image in time for the photo’s 20th anniversary (on the left). According to NASA’s press release, the new photo provides essential context to the original:
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.
NASA also took a “visible-light” image:
In addition to this new visible-light image, Hubble has also produced a bonus image. This image is taken in infrared light, which penetrates much of the obscuring dust and gas and unveils a more unfamiliar view of the pillars, transforming them into wispy silhouettes set against a background peppered with stars. Here newborn stars, hidden in the visible-light view, can be seen forming within the pillars themselves.
The images were presented at the 225th meeting of the American Astronomical Society on Monday.
(Photos: NASA, ESA/Hubble and the Hubble Heritage Team)