What do the “Pillars of Creation” really make?
The answer is a whole new generation of stars, gathered together like a kind of cosmic kindergarten, with young stars of different ages and temperaments. A new image from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) tells that story.
The image is pleasing at first glance. It is filled with many colors, but each shade gives important information about the region of the Eagle Nebula. It’s the product of two instruments on the new telescope, which scans the Universe from a fixed perch about 1 million miles from Earth. Once in the hands of the astronomers, it’s game time.
They assign color profiles to each unique substance or object to help the eye focus and distinguish. The color profiles are important as Webb sees at wavelengths beyond what our eyes can see. A new mosaic merges data from two unique images: a sparkling spectacle from Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) data and the somber but impressive view of observations from the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI). Side by side, these two moods reveal a more complete picture.
The orange colors correspond to diffuse dust, scattered in space. It is applied above the larger “pillar” at the top of the image. This MIRI information cannot be seen in the NIRCam scintillation image. But now, this key ingredient in the star recipe appears alongside the finished product. Stars that shine across the region, by contrast, are mostly invisible in the gloomy MIRI data.
More dust appears in indigo, on the right and on the pillars. These are the densest areas.
Some of this compact material covers the cradles of newborn stars. The most obvious is the tip of the middle pillar, near small bright red ripples. “These young stars are estimated to be only a few hundred thousand years old and will continue to form for millions of years,” according to an image description posted on Wednesday, November 30.
In late October, JWST collaborator and astrophysicist Rogier Windhorst said Inverse that the slightly larger stars sweep the region with their radiation and shape the dust into the towers seen here.
“These are much more massive than the Sun and formed earlier. And it is their blue ultraviolet radiation that over the last million years has shaped and carved out the shape of these pillars,” he said.
The “Pillars of Creation” first captured the world’s attention in 1995. JWST’s active predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope, made such an impression with its image of this region that it even appeared on a US postage stamp. The 2022 view likely won’t be the last time astronomers look at this part of the Eagle Nebula, 6,500 light-years away.
For now, the public can enjoy what Windhorst describes as the “full glory” of the pillars and their astral creations.