The James Webb Space Telescope, owned by NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), has immortalized the most famous cradle of stars, ‘pillars of creation’: plumes of interstellar gas and dust about 6,500 light-years away, New stars are forming inside it, which are estimated to be only a few hundred thousand years old. The same image, taken in 1995, made the Hubble Telescope (by NASA and the European Space Agency) famous: it’s actually considered one of the 10 best shots, but the difference in detail and resolution with the new Webb images is remarkable.
In the photos, the columns look like majestic rock formations, but the new stars in the formation, visible on the outside of the columns, steal the show. The wavy lava-like lines are caused by newborn stars, which periodically release jets that smash into clouds of surrounding material. On the other hand, the reddish light comes from energetic hydrogen molecules, which are produced during the expulsion of materials and collisions that occur within these gas columns.
But this time, Webb was unable to “cross” the clouds to reveal what lay behind them, although it might seem the opposite: the images, in fact, do not contain background galaxies. The reason is a mixture of transparent gas and dust known as the interstellar medium, which prevents us from seeing at a greater depth. These new snapshots of the Pillars of Creation will help researchers better understand the processes of star formation and death.
Pillars of Creation imaged by Hubble (left) and Webb (right) (Source: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI; J. DePasquale, A. Koekemoer, A. Pagan (STScI))
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