NASA unveils stunning image of the Pillars of Creation star factory from the Webb Space Telescope

NASA on Wednesday released a vibrant new image of the Pillars of Creation, a star factory in the Eagle Nebula, some 6,500 light-years away. The image, captured by the James Webb Space Telescope's Near Infrared Camera, adds detail and color to the captivating photo of the Pillars taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1995.

Pillars of Creation, 1995 vs 2022

Pillars of Creation, Hubble (1995) vs. Webb (2022)
(Image credit: NASA)

The Pillars of Creation, "set off in a kaleidoscope of color" in this new image, "look like arches and spires rising out of a desert landscape, but are filled with semi-transparent gas and dust, and ever changing," NASA said. "This is a region where young stars are forming — or have barely burst from their dusty cocoons as they continue to form."

The "newly formed stars are the scene-stealers in this image," NASA added, pointing to "the bright red orbs that typically have diffraction spikes and lie outside one of the dusty pillars. When knots with sufficient mass form within the pillars of gas and dust, they begin to collapse under their own gravity, slowly heat up, and eventually form new stars." The U.S. space agency offered a brief guided video tour of the Pillars of Creation, where, NASA says somewhat whimsically, "scores of newly formed stars glisten like dewdrops."

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The Webb telescoped had a "stupendously successful" launch on Christmas Day last year, "after 20 years and some $10 billion," Dennis Overbye writes at The New York Times, and it "has proved its worth. In the last few months it has dazzled astronomers with new views of a universe that they thought they knew: galaxies and stars at the edge of time, only a few hundred million years after the Big Bang; spooky pictures of planets like Neptune and Jupiter; delicate probes of the atmospheres of exoplanets that are possible lairs of alien life-forms; a view of detritus from a small asteroid just after the NASA DART spacecraft, practicing planetary defense, intentionally smashed into it; and cosmic landscapes like the Pillars of Creation or the cosmic cliffs of the Carina Nebula, emphasizing the immense scale and fragile drama of the cycles of creation and destruction that characterize the seasons of existence in our galaxy."

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