David Grinspoon, an astrobiologist at the Planetary Science Institute, called the new Webb image “just spectacular beyond words.”
“Oh. My. Universe.” he tweeted.
The Pillars of Creation lie at the heart of a stellar nursery known as the Eagle Nebula, or Messier 16, which is located around 6,500 light-years away from Earth.
They form a familiar scene: the wispy towers of gas and dust, which resemble rock formations, were famously captured by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1995, then again in 2014. In the Webb observatory’s new view, the sculpted columns appear less opaque, since Webb’s infrared instruments can penetrate through some of the dust to reveal more of the region’s newly formed stars.
Young stars, estimated to be only a few hundred thousand years old, are the bright red orbs in the image. New stars form within clouds of dust and gas as dense clumps of mass collapse under their own gravity and begin to heat up.
The Webb Telescope captured this dynamic journey in progress, according to Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.
“See those wavy lines that look like lava at the edges of the pillars? These are baby stars that are forming within the gas & dust,” he tweeted.