Webb Team Releases Composite Image of Pillars of Creation

Astronomers have combined Webb’s near-infrared image with the mid-infrared image, setting the iconic Pillars of Creation ablaze with new details.

This Webb image shows the Pillars of Creation, a small star-forming region some 6,500 light-years away in the constellation of Serpens. Image credit: NASA / ESA / CSA / STScI / J. DePasquale, STScI / A. Pagan, STScI / A. M. Koekemoer, STScI.

This Webb image shows the Pillars of Creation, a small star-forming region some 6,500 light-years away in the constellation of Serpens. Image credit: NASA / ESA / CSA / STScI / J. DePasquale, STScI / A. Pagan, STScI / A. M. Koekemoer, STScI.

The Pillars of Creation are three towers of gas and dust located some 6,500 light-years away in the constellation of Serpens.

They are a fascinating but relatively small feature of the Eagle Nebula (also known as Messier 16), which was discovered in 1745 by the Swiss astronomer Jean-Philippe Loys de Chéseaux.

The Pillars of Creation are approximately 4-5 light-years long, while the nebula is 55-70 light-years wide.

They arise when immense, freshly formed blue-white O- and B-type stars give off intense ultraviolet radiation and stellar winds that blow away less dense materials from their vicinity.

Denser pockets of gas and dust, however, can resist this erosion for longer. Behind such thicker dust pockets, material is shielded from the harsh, withering glare of O and B stars.

This shielding creates dark ‘tails’ or ‘elephant trunks,’ which astronomers see as the dusky body of a pillar, that point away from the brilliant stars.

“Myriad stars are spread throughout the scene,” Webb astronomers said in a statement.

“The stars primarily show up in near-infrared light, marking a contribution of Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam).”

“Near-infrared light also reveals thousands of newly formed stars — look for bright orange spheres that lie just outside the dusty pillars.”

“In mid-infrared light, the dust is on full display,” they added.

“The contributions from Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) are most apparent in the layers of diffuse, orange dust that drape the top of the image, relaxing into a V.”

“The densest regions of dust are cast in deep indigo hues, obscuring our view of the activities inside the dense pillars.”

“Dust also makes up the spire-like pillars that extend from the bottom left to the top right.”

“This is one of the reasons why the region is overflowing with stars — dust is a major ingredient of star formation.”

“When knots of gas and dust with sufficient mass form in the pillars, they begin to collapse under their own gravitational attraction, slowly heat up, and eventually form new stars.”

“Newly formed stars are especially apparent at the edges of the top two pillars — they are practically bursting onto the scene.”

“At the top edge of the second pillar, undulating detail in red hints at even more embedded stars,” the astronomers said.

“These are even younger, and are quite active as they form.”

“The lava-like regions capture their periodic ejections.”

“As stars form, they periodically send out supersonic jets that can interact within clouds of material, like these thick pillars of gas and dust.”

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

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