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Hubble Gets Second Look At Pillars of Creation 20 Years Later

Stunning new images captured by the Hubble Space Telescope have been released to celebrate a quarter century of operating. The return to the telescope’s most famous target, revealing the Pillars of Creation as never before seen, 20 years after the initial mosaic was revealed.

The original image of the Pillars of Creation that form part of the larger Eagle Nebula was captured in 1995 using Hubble’s Wide Field Planetary Camera 2. Installed in 2009, Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 replaced Camera 2 during Hubble’s last servicing mission with its higher resolution and wider field of view. The Hubble team re-observed the nebulous structure.

These spectacular new images show a deeper level of detail not seen before in both visible and infrared light and were showcased at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle, Washington.

The Eagle Nebula, known as M16 and found in the constellation Serpens, is a vast “stellar nursery” 6,500 light years away that spans approximately 77-by 50-light years, Christian Science Monitor reported. New stars are formed in several regions in the stellar nursery.

Through the compression and collapse of large quantities of dust and hydrogen gas by gravitational forces, nuclear fusion is ignited as the density and temperature rises and a new star is born. It is believed that the Sun may have even been formed within a similar structure. The Pillars are one such star-forming region within the Eagle Nebula and reaches up to 4 light-years in height.

Although the Pillars look serene in images, they are in fact extremely turbulent. The violent ultraviolet radiation emitted by the baby stars strips the constituent gas of its electrons (known as “ionizing”) and heats it up.

The increase in temperature is what makes the Pillars and surrounding nebula light up. These same new stars actively strip away the gas from the imposing columns with their strong stellar winds, slowly eroding them away and blowing them into space in streams that are noticeable around the top left-hand column.

“This was the first time we had directly seen observational evidence that the erosionary process, not only the radiation but the mechanical stripping away of the gas from the columns, was actually being seen,” Paul Scowen of Arizona State University in Tempe told HubbleSite.

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