Hubble Space Telescope Revisits Pillars of Creation Photo

Posted on January 5, 2015

Hubble Pillars of Creation

The Hubble Space Telescope has revisited the "Pillars of Creation" for a new high def photograph. The photograph reveals new details of the three columns of cold gas that are bathed in star light from the Eagle Nebula (M16). The Eagle Nebula is located 6,500 light-years from Earth.

The new photograph is part of the celebration of Hubble's 25th anniversary. The stunning new image reveals new details of the gaseous pillars and shows the pillars are being slowly eroded. The pillars in the image are about 5 light-years tall. The colors in the image indicate emissions from chemical elements. These include blue for oxygen emission, orange for sulfur and green for hydrogen and nitrogen.

Paul Scowen of Arizona State University, who led the original Hubble observations of M16 with astronomer Jeff Hester, says in a statement, "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."

Scowen also says the pillars are being sandblasted and eroded by strong winds from the stars. He says, "The gas is not being passively heated up and gently wafting away into space. The gaseous pillars are actually getting ionized (a process by which electrons are stripped off of atoms) and heated up by radiation from the massive stars. And then they are being eroded by the stars' strong winds (barrage of charged particles), which are sandblasting away the tops of these pillars."

A large version of the new "Pillars of Creation" image can be seen here. It can also be viewed here in a comparison photograph next to the original 1995 Hubble image.

Photo: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)