A new image released by NASA has finally confirmed that the universe is a massive show-off. That pink super moon stunt that it pulled last week was outrageous enough, but this latest view of the Pillars of Creation – a stunning cloud of interstellar gas and dust – is quite frankly a scandal.
Located in the Eagle Nebula, some 6,500 light-years from Earth, the Pillars of Creation were first photographed in 1995 by the Hubble Space Telescope – celebrating 30 years in orbit this month – and quickly became one of the most iconic landmarks in the cosmos. A second, more detailed image of the structure was captured in 2014, though both of these shots captured visible light.
To give a different perspective on these silky columns of wonder, Hubble researchers have now compiled a new image using infrared light, which is able to penetrate much of the gas and dust to reveal the newborn stars lurking within the pillars. Only the ghostly silhouette of the cloud can be seen framing these points of light, kissed by a blue haze that represents material evaporating into space as it is blasted by ionizing radiation from nearby stars.
Measuring 4-5 light-years across and around 4 light-years in height, the Pillars of Creation are dense clouds of hydrogen gas that act as a nursery for new stars. As gas and dust particles clump together, they heat up to form protostars. If these star embryos continue gathering mass then their core temperatures can eventually become hot enough to ignite.
Yet as stars continue to form within the pillars, the radiation they give off causes more and more of the material within these great clouds to evaporate, meaning that one day far in the future these stunning columns will disappear entirely.
Until then, however, the Pillars of Creation will remain one of the most exquisitely beautiful features in this saucy universe of ours.