In honor of its 25th birthday, the Hubble telescope is revisiting and rephotographing some of its iconic images. First up is the section of the Eagle Nebula, or M16, known as "The Pillars of Creation."
According to the Hubble website: "Though such butte-like features are common in star-forming regions, the M16 structures are by far the most photogenic and evocative."
Hubble has rephotographed the pillars, providing astronomers with a sharper and wider view.
"Streamers of gas can be seen bleeding off pillars as the intense radiation heats and evaporates it into space. Stars are being born deep inside the pillars."
Oxygen emission is blue, sulfur is orange, and hydrogen and nitrogen are green.
Near infrared view of the "Pillars of Creation"
"Near-infrared light can penetrate much of the gas and dust, revealing stars behind the nebula as well as hidden away inside the pillars. Some of the gas and dust clouds are so dense that even the near-infrared light cannot penetrate them.
"New stars embedded in the tops of the pillars, however, are apparent as bright sources that are unseen in the visible image.
"The ghostly bluish haze around the dense edges of the pillars is material getting heated up by the intense ultraviolet radiation from a cluster of young, massive stars and evaporating away into space. The stellar grouping is above the pillars and cannot be seen in the image. At the top edge of the left-hand pillar, a gaseous fragment has been heated up and is flying away from the structure, underscoring the violent nature of star-forming regions.
"Astronomers used filters that isolate the light from newly formed stars, which are invisible in the visible-light image. At these wavelengths, astronomers are seeing through the pillars and even through the back wall of the nebula cavity and can see the next generations of stars just as they're starting to emerge from their formative nursery."
The 1995 image of the "Pillars of Creation"
The 1995 Hubble image, seen here, is so popular that it has appeared in movies and television shows, on tee-shirts and pillows, and even on a postage stamp.
Changes in the nebula
"By comparing the 1995 and 2014 pictures, astronomers also noticed a lengthening of a narrow jet-like feature that may have been ejected from a newly forming star. The jet looks like a stream of water from a garden hose. Over the intervening 19 years, this jet has stretched farther into space, across an additional 60 billion miles, at an estimated speed of about 450,000 miles per hour."