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Stunning new Webb Telescope image showcases the “Pillars of Creation” – Ars Technica


The James Webb Space Telescope captured a stunning new view of the iconic Pillars of Creation.
Enlarge / The James Webb Space Telescope captured a stunning new view of the iconic Pillars of Creation.

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has been the gift that keeps on giving, releasing one jaw-dropping image after another since the summer. Today, NASA released a stunning near-infrared camera picture of the iconic “Pillars of Creation” in the Eagle Nebula, some 7, 000-light-years away.

“I’ve been studying the Eagle Nebula since the mid-1990s, trying to see ‘inside’ the particular light-years long pillars that Hubble showed, searching for young stars inside them, ” Mark McCaughrean of the European Area Agency told BBC News . “I always knew that when James Webb took pictures of it, they would be stunning. And so they are. ”

The James Webb Room Telescope launched in December 2021 and, after a suspenseful sunshield and mirror deployment over several months , began capturing stunning images. First, there was the deep field image of the Universe, released in July. This was followed by images of exoplanet atmospheres , the Southern Ring Nebula, a cluster of interacting galaxies called Stephan’s Quintet, and the Carina Nebula, a star-forming region about seven, 600-light-years away. These pictures reportedly brought astronomers to tears .

In August, we received gorgeous images of Jupiter, including  the auroras at both poles that result from Jupiter’s powerful magnetic field, as well as its thin rings and two of the gas giant’s small moons. This was followed a month later by a mosaic image showing a panorama of star formation stretching across a staggering 340 light-years in the Tarantula Nebula—so named because of its long, dusty filaments.   This stellar nursery is located in the Large Magellanic Cloud, one of the closest galaxies to our own Milky Way at a distance of 160, 000 light-years.

We also were treated to spectacular images of  Neptune and its rings , which have not been directly observed since Voyager 2 flew by the planet in 1989. It is difficult to observe these rings from afar because they are close to the planet and obscured by Neptune’s brightness. But the Webb telescope found both prominent rings as well as bands of dust.

The original "Pillars of Creation" in the Eagle Nebula image, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1995.
Expand / The original “Pillars of Creation” within the Eagle Nebula image, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1995.
NASA/Public domain

And now we have the Pillars of Creation —arguably the most famous image used by Webb’s predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope , in 1995. (Chances are, someone you know has a T-shirt or coffee mug depicting that image—it’s that famous. ) The pillars are basically cool molecular hydrogen and dust slowly being eroded by the UV light of nearby hot stars. The famous image received its name because buried beneath all that gas plus dust, new stars are usually born.

The particular Webb Space Telescope’s new image particularly showcases those protostars—bright red orbs, occasionally with sharp diffraction spikes. Check it out:

The Pillars of Creation are set off in a kaleidoscope of color in the James Webb Space Telescope’s near-infrared-light view.
Enlarge / The Pillars associated with Creation are set off in a kaleidoscope of color in the James Webb Space Telescope’s near-infrared-light view.

There are also distinct lines resembling lava along the edges of the pillars—ejections from the celebrities in the process of forming, still just a few hundred thousand years old. There are no distant galaxies visible in this latest picture, however , because the interstellar medium is blocking Webb’s view. Still, astronomers are excited because the data behind the image will likely lead to improved models of star formation.