James Webb telescope captures Pillars of Creation in unprecedented detail

The James Webb Space Telescope sightseeing tour just got a new look at one of the most famous interstellar objects. Researchers have captured their most detailed image yet of the Pillars of Creation, a school of star formation in the Eagle Nebula, about 6,500 light-years away. The near-infrared image shows even more detail than Hubble’s 2014 snapshot, with an abundance of stars (especially newborns) in view – there’s not even a galaxy in sight.

The new stars are the bright red points of light in the scene and are estimated to be “only” a few hundred thousand years old. The red glow of the pillars, not to mention the wavy lines along some edges, are the result of jets and bow thrusts energizing hydrogen and pushing it outward. They don’t see galaxies because the gas and dust of the Milky Way’s interstellar medium blocks more distant objects in such a dense area.

Hubble first photographed the Pillars of Creation in 1995 (see below), but technology at the time revealed only a fraction of the stars in the region. The 2014 remake provided significantly more detail, but the visible-light snapshot still left the pillars relatively opaque and hid some of the forming stars. James Webb’s observation is essentially a more complete account of kindergarten activities.

This enhanced recording isn’t just for show. Scientists hope to revise their star formation models thanks to Webb’s more accurate data for stars, gas and dust. This could improve humanity’s understanding of early stellar life and thus of the universe as a whole.

Pillars of Creation (Hubble and Webb images side by side)
Hubble Space Telescope images of the Pillars of Creation from 1995 (left) and 2014 (right).

NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI; Joseph DePasquale (STScI), Anton M. Koekemoer (STScI), Alyssa Pagan (STScI)

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Russell Falcon

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