NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has taken many magnificent photos of the universe but one — the “Pillars of Creation” — stands out among the rest.
The stunning photo, taken in 1995, revealed new details of three giant columns of cold gas covered in ultraviolet light from a cluster of young, massive stars in a small region of the Eagle Nebula, or M16.
The image became so popular it appeared in movies and television shows, on T-shirts and pillows, and even on a postage stamp.
Now, 25 years later, Hubble has revisited the famous pillars, providing astronomers with an even better view. Newborn stars can be seen hidden away inside the pillars.
“I’m impressed by how transitory these structures are. They are actively being ablated away before our very eyes. The ghostly bluish haze around the dense edges of the pillars is material getting heated up and evaporating away into space. We have caught these pillars at a very unique and short-lived moment in their evolution,” explained Paul Scowen of Arizona State University in Tempe. He and astronomer Jeff Hester, formerly of Arizona State University, led the original Hubble observations of the Eagle Nebula.
A new infrared image shows that the very ends of the pillars are dense knots of dust and gas. They shadow the gas below them, keeping the gas cool and creating the long, column-like structures, according to NASA. The material in between the pillars has long since been evaporated away by the ionizing radiation from the central star cluster located above the pillars.
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.