- Jonathan Amos
- BBC Science Correspondent
It’s a classic, one of the most beautiful sights in the universe, and now the James Webb Space Telescope has revisited it..
The so-called “Pillars of Creation” are dense clouds of hydrogen and dust in the Serpentine constellation, 6,500 light-years from Earth.
All major telescopes have captured this scene, with the most famous images from the Hubble Observatory in 1995 and 2014.
James Webb offers us another incredible perspective.
The pillars are at the heart of what astronomers call Messier 16 (M!6), or the Eagle Nebula.
This is an active area of star formation.
With his infrared detectors, Webb could see beyond the light-scattering effects of the pillar’s dust to examine the activity of the newborn sun.
“I’ve been studying the Eagle Nebula since the mid-1990s, trying to look ‘inside’ the pillars that Hubble showed, looking for new stars inside them. I knew they were going to be amazing when James Webb took pictures of them . . . and they are,” Professor Mark McGaughran, senior science adviser to the European Space Agency, told the BBC. .
M16’s pillars are illuminated and sculpted by the intense ultraviolet rays of nearby massive stars. Radiation towers are also being dismantled.
If you could magically move to this place today, the pillars would most likely not be there.
We see them only because we look at the past. The light detected by the James Webb Telescope took 6,500 years to reach its mirror.
James Webb is a collaborative project of the US, European and Canadian space agencies. Launched in December last year, it is considered the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope.
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