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Webb space telescope reveals "Pillars of Creation" in stunning new detail

NASA releases stunning new Webb Telescope photo
NASA releases stunning new Webb Telescope photo 00:25

One of the Hubble Space Telescope's most iconic images, a vast stellar nursery dubbed "The Pillars of Creation," has been taken to new heights by the James Webb Space Telescope in a stunning infrared view revealing countless previously unseen stars and intricate detail in towering clouds of gas sculpted by embedded protosuns.

The pillars are part of the Eagle Nebula, also known as M-16, in the plane of the Milky Way some 6,500 light years from Earth. It's a target familiar to legions of amateur astronomers as an easy-to-find patch of nebulosity in the constellation Serpens near the border of Sagittarius.

The James Webb Space Telescope captures a stunning view of the "Pillars of Creation" at the hearts of the Eagle Nebula some 6,500 light years from Earth. Famously imaged by Hubble Space Telescope in 1995 and again in 2014, the pillars as viewed by Webb's infrared instruments reveal thousands of previously unseen stars and intricate details in the long towers of gas and dust that help define a vast stellar nursery. NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI; J. DePasquale, A. Koekemoer, A. Pagan (STScI)

First observed in 1745-46 by the Swiss astronomer Jean-Philippe Loys de Chéseaux, the towering pillars can be observed by amateurs with larger instruments at the center of the eagle-shaped nebula, which stretches across 70 light years.

But the true nature of the pillars was famously revealed in 1995 by the Hubble Space Telescope, an image that wowed the public and was soon one of the most recognized and widely published photos ever captured by the venerable observatory.

A comparison of Hubble's iconic view of the "Pillars of Creation" (left) and Web's view (right). NASA and the European Space Agency have provided a "slider" tool that allows the viewer to move between the two views. NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI; J. DePasquale, A. Koekemoer, A. Pagan (STScI)

But Hubble is primarily a visible-light telescope with only a limited ability to detect cloud-piercing infrared emissions from the interior of the pillars and from stars shining in and behind a translucent, obscuring layer of gas making up the interstellar medium that is most apparent looking into the plane of the galaxy.

A wide shot of the Eagle Nebula from the European Southern Observatory showing the Pillars of Creation near the center. ESO

Enter the $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope.

In Webb's infrared view of the pillars, thousands of previously unseen stars are revealed in the interstellar medium, while the towers themselves show the intricate effects of radiation from newly formed stars sculpting finger-like extensions, swirls and eddies in rich brown hues.

"Young stars periodically shoot out jets that can interact within clouds of material, like these thick pillars of gas and dust," NASA said in a release. "This sometimes also results in bow shocks, which can form wavy patterns like a boat does as it moves through water.

"These young stars are estimated to be only a few hundred thousand years old, and will continue to form for millions of years."

Pan of the Webb’s Portrait of the Pillars of Creation by HubbleWebbESA on YouTube
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