The Pillars of Creation are huge towers of gas and dust where stars are born, and the James Webb Space Telescope has peered through the clouds to see the young stars
19 October 2022
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has transformed our view of the iconic Pillars of Creation, which are 6500 light years away in the much larger Eagle Nebula. While these towering clouds of dust and gas look like solid cosmic stalagmites in the classic images from the Hubble Space Telescope, JWST images reveal the stars forming within them.
JWST is able to see through the dust because it observes in infrared wavelengths of light, as opposed to visible light that Hubble mostly uses. Infrared light pierces through the clouds of dust and gas to show the young stars that have just formed or are still forming in this stellar nursery.
Many of the brightest stars in this image have only recently formed within the pillars and then blown away their surrounding gas. Some of these bright stars are surrounded by eight spikes of light, which are simply caused by the extremely bright starlight bouncing off the edges of JWST’s mirrors.
The dark lines at the edges of the clouds come from even younger stars, which formed only a few hundred thousand years ago. When those stars are still forming, they blast out jets of plasma. The jets slam into the gas and dust around them and create shock waves which pick up more material as they propagate through the cloud.
Observing these young stars directly may help us learn more about the process of star formation – how dust and gas forms tight knots which then collapse into stars. It could also help us track what happens once the stars form in a region like this, and how they emerge from their pillar-like cocoons.
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