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Two of the European Space Agency's (ESA) orbiting observatories have captured new and spectacular views of the gas pillars in the Eagle Nebula (M16) that were the subject of the iconic 1995 Hubble images dubbed "Pillars of Creation"
In 1995, the Hubble Space Telescope's 'Pillars of Creation' image of the Eagle Nebula became one of the most iconic images of the 20th century. Now, two of ESA's orbiting observatories --Stunning new Herschel and XMM-Newton-- have revealed new insights this enigmatic star-forming region.
The pillars are only a small portion of the extensive nebulous region imaged in far-infrared by ESA’s Herschel Space Observatory, which shows cool dust and gas tendrils being carved away by the hot stars seen in the X-ray image from XMM-Newton. The wide-field optical image from the ESO MPG telescope puts the pillars into context against the full scale of the nebula, which is over 75 light-years across
The 8.2m-diameter VLT’s ANTU telescope imaged the famous Pillars of Creation region and its surroundings in near-infrared using the ISAAC instrument. This enabled astronomers to penetrate the obscuring dust in their search to detect newly formed stars.
In parallel, a new multi-energy X-ray image from ESA's XMM-Newton telescope shows those hot young stars responsible for carving the pillars. Combining the new space data with near-infrared images from the European Southern Observatory's (ESO's) Very Large Telescope at Paranal, Chile, and visible-light data from its Max Planck Gesellschaft 2.2m diameter telescope at La Silla, Chile, we see this iconic region of the sky in a uniquely beautiful and revealing way.
With regions like the Eagle Nebula, combining all of these observations helps astronomers to understand the complex yet amazing lifecycle of stars.
These eerie, dark pillar-like structures are actually columns of cool interstellar hydrogen gas and dust that are also incubators for new stars. The pillars protrude from the interior wall of a dark molecular cloud like stalagmites from the floor of a cavern. They are part of the "Eagle Nebula" (also called M16 -- the 16th object in Charles Messier's 18th century catalog of "fuzzy" objects that aren't comets), a nearby star-forming region 7,000 light-years away in the constellation Serpens.