Haunting Portrait: NASA’s Webb Reveals Dusty Structure of the Pillars of Creation

The James Webb Space Tele.scope (JWST)

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) seen above has given us a new eerie image of the well-known Pillars of Creation. (Image: NASA)

The observatory’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) provides a different view of the famous Pillars of Creation, revealing young stars that have not yet cast off their dusty “cloaks.” This is not an ethereal landscape of time-forgotten tombs. Nor are these soot-tinged fingers reaching out. These pillars, flush with gas and dust, enshroud stars that are slowly forming over many millennia.

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has snapped this eerie, extremely dusty view of the Pillars of Creation in mid-infrared light — showing us a new view of a familiar landscape. Why does mid-infrared light set such a somber, chilling mood in Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) image? Interstellar dust cloaks the scene. And while mid-infrared light specializes in detailing where dust is, the stars aren’t bright enough at these wavelengths to appear. Instead, these looming, leaden-hued pillars of gas and dust gleam at their edges, hinting at the activity within.

Subscribe to our Newsletter!

Receive selected content straight into your inbox.

Layers of gas and dust are the centerpiece of this view of the Pillars of Creation taken by Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument. Thousands of stars exist in this region — 6,500 light-years from Earth — but are not visible in the image since stars typically do not emit much mid-infrared light. (Image: Joseph DePasquale (STScI), Alyssa Pagan (STScI) via NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI)

The Pillars of Creation are made up of many thousands of stars

Thousands and thousands of stars have formed in the Pillars of Creation. This is made plain when examining Webb’s recent Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) image. In MIRI’s view, the majority of the stars appear missing. Why?

Many newly formed stars are no longer surrounded by enough dust to be detected in mid-infrared light. Instead, MIRI observes young stars that have not yet cast off their dusty “cloaks.” These are the crimson orbs toward the fringes of the Pillars of Creation. In contrast, the blue stars that dot the scene are aging, which means they have shed most of their layers of gas and dust. Mid-infrared light excels at observing gas and dust in extreme detail. This is also unmistakable throughout the background. The densest areas of dust are the darkest shades of gray.

The red region toward the top, which forms an uncanny V, like an owl with outstretched wings, is where the dust is diffuse and cooler. Notice that no background galaxies make an appearance — the interstellar medium in the densest part of the Milky Way’s disk is too swollen with gas and dust to allow their distant light to penetrate. How vast is this landscape? Trace the topmost pillar, landing on the bright red star jutting out of its lower edge like a broomstick. This star and its dusty shroud are larger than the size of our entire solar system.

Image of the Pillars of Creation taken by the Hubble space telescope inset into an image of the Eagle Nebula taken by the Spitzer space telescope.
Image of the Pillars of Creation from the Hubble Space Telescope inset into an infrared image of the Eagle Nebula taken by the Spitzer Space Telescope. (Image: N. Flagey (SSC / Caltech) and the MIPSGAL Science Team via NASA, JPL-Caltech)

This scene was first captured by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope in 1995 and revisited in 2014, but many other observatories, like NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, have also gazed deeply at the Pillars of Creation. With every observation, astronomers gain new information, and through their ongoing research build a deeper understanding of this star-forming region. Each wavelength of light and advanced instrument delivers far more precise counts of the gas, dust, and stars, which inform researchers’ models of how stars form. As a result of the new MIRI image, astronomers now have higher-resolution data in mid-infrared light than ever before, and they will analyze its far more precise dust measurements to create a more complete 3D landscape of this distant region.

The Pillars of Creation is set within the vast Eagle Nebula, which lies 6,500 light-years away.

Provided by Jet Propulsion Laboratory [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

Follow us on TwitterFacebook, or Pinterest

Recommended Stories

Origami fashion.

The Exquisite Art of Origami-Inspired Fashion

Origami is the Japanese art of paper folding. The aim of origami is to transform ...

'Su Li's Intent' by Zhou Wenmo

The Regret of a Traitor (Part 2)

Years later, the relationship between the Han Dynasty and Xiongnu improved. Su Wu was allowed ...

Li Ling dancing.

The Regret of a Traitor (Part 1)

The story of Su Wu (140-60 B.C.), a Chinese diplomat and statesman of the Han ...

Hong Kong protest against the extradition bill.

Hong Kong Officially Withdraws Extradition Bill

After over 20 weeks into massive protests that have rocked the semi-autonomous city of Hong ...

A large company building.

Learning How to Be Grateful

A woman with excellent academic achievements, but who had never learned how to be grateful, ...

A painting of a mountain.

A Grateful Wolf

This story about a grateful wolf took place in the time of the Daoguang Emperor ...

An elephnat and its baby.

A Grateful Elephant

During the Song Dynasty, a hunter from Yangshan County (in present-day Guangdong Province) had caught ...

a username and password.

Easy Security Hack: Cracking Firewalls Using Spy Chips

A cybersecurity expert has revealed a way to secretly implant spy chips in popular hardware ...

King Zhuang of Chu.

A Consort’s Wisdom Saved the King and His Kingdom (Part 2)

King Zhuang was very fond of the company of his minister Yu Qiuzi and he ...

Send this to a friend