Pic of the Week: The Pillars of Creation

Image (Credit): JWSP’s view of The Pillars of Creation. (NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI; Joseph DePasquale (STScI), Anton M. Koekemoer (STScI), Alyssa Pagan (STScI))

This week’s image is a redo of an earlier Hubble Space Telescope image (shown below), but this time we see the Pillars of Creation through the eyes of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). The pillars is part of the Eagle Nebula, which lies 6,500 light-years away.

Here is more from NASA on the JWST image:

Newly formed stars are the scene-stealers in this image from Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam). These are the bright red orbs that typically have diffraction spikes and lie outside one of the dusty pillars. When knots with sufficient mass form within the pillars of gas and dust, they begin to collapse under their own gravity, slowly heat up, and eventually form new stars.

What about those wavy lines that look like lava at the edges of some pillars? These are ejections from stars that are still forming within the gas and dust. Young stars periodically shoot out supersonic jets that collide with clouds of material, like these thick pillars. This sometimes also results in bow shocks, which can form wavy patterns like a boat does as it moves through water. The crimson glow comes from the energetic hydrogen molecules that result from jets and shocks. This is evident in the second and third pillars from the top – the NIRCam image is practically pulsing with their activity. These young stars are estimated to be only a few hundred thousand years old.

Although it may appear that near-infrared light has allowed Webb to “pierce through” the clouds to reveal great cosmic distances beyond the pillars, there are no galaxies in this view. Instead, a mix of translucent gas and dust known as the interstellar medium in the densest part of our Milky Way galaxy’s disk blocks our view of the deeper universe.

Image (Credit): Hubble Space Telescope’s view of The Pillars of Creation in 2014. (NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team)