NASA has just announced the release of images that have been dubbed “pillar of creation,” depicting new worlds being formed – in other words, the birth of stars.
The images were captured by the highly anticipated James Webb Space Telescope of NASA, with the support of the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).
In the image, a giant cloud of dust and gas appears as a godly hand reaching out from the darkness, with fingers as bright and sturdy as pillars. This is the Eagle Nebula, a region of intense star formation located in the constellation Serpens.
The Pillar Structure – four-light-year-high pillars – are called the Creative Columns because the intense radiation from nearby stars and the dense clouds within are pushing the gas away from the central region. Part of the Carina Nebula in the Carina constellation, these 7,000-light-year-old Earth pillars were first captured by the Hubble Space Telescope on April 1, 1995, causing astronomical excitement with their stunning beauty.
“I have been studying the Carina Nebula since the 1990s, trying to see ‘inside’ these year-old pillar structures that Hubble showed us and searching for young stars within them. I always knew that when James Webb captured them, they would be truly remarkable,” says Professor Mark McCaughrean, senior science advisor at ESA, as quoted by the BBC.
According to NASA, the brightest bursts seen by the Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam) of the James Webb Space Telescope are young, still in the “protostar” phase, red stars with jets of gas, located near one of the pillars – made of gas and dust.
As these red stars contain enough mass within the gas and dust pillars, they begin to collapse under their own gravitational force, gradually heating up and eventually becoming fully-formed stars. As these new stars grow, they will gradually start to heat up and light up the surrounding filaments, possibly becoming dominant players in the neighborhood in a few million years.
These dust pillars are located about 6,500 light-years away from us in the Milky Way galaxy, which contains Earth. Specifically, they were found in the Eagle Nebula and were first discovered in 1995 by the Hubble Telescope.
The wispy streams of dust in some of the pillars are the result of energetic and violent outflows from young stars, which are emitting extremely intense and periodic bursts of energy that collide with surrounding clouds of gas and dust, creating stunning visual effects. These young stars are several hundred thousand years old.
The data will help astronomers study the structure of galaxies better, by providing more accurate information about the number of young stars, as well as the amount of gas and dust in the region. According to theory, they can better understand the structure of these galaxies and unveil these clouds in the distant sky over the years.
The James Webb Space Telescope is the leading space observation tool today. With its sensitivity increased by 100 times compared to Hubble, it can study the earliest stages of the universe, just after the Big Bang, 13.8 billion years ago. The farther away an object is, the more time it takes for its light to reach Earth. Therefore, observing the deep space is extremely challenging. That is why the NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is referred to as the “penetrating tool”.
Although the Webb’s close observation of the galactic center allows exploring deep space, there is no way to see behind the clouds in this region. NASA believes that the mixture of dust and gas in the dim region of the Milky Way’s thick disk is blocking our view of deep space even more.