As if the Pillars of Creation could get any more iconic.
NASA's James Webb Space Telescope has captured a fresh view of a famed celestial sight: the stunning star-forming region known as the Pillars of Creation.
The image, teeming with newborn stars and revealing new details of the region's haunting spires of dust and gas, was released Wednesday. It is the latest cosmic portrait from the Webb observatory, building on the telescope's already impressive collection.
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.
Observations from the Webb Telescope can help astronomers better understand the process of star formation and refine their models of how newborn stars emerge from clouds of interstellar gas, NASA said.
The tennis court-sized observatory is equipped with instruments that detect distant stars and galaxies in infrared and near-infrared light. This allows Webb to probe beyond the range of human sight and capture details that are invisible to other telescopes, including Hubble, that primarily detect visible light.
The $10 billion Webb observatory launched into space Dec. 25 last year. The first batch of images from the observatory was released in July, and these early science operations have already revealed tantalizing new details about the universe.