A View of the Pillars of Creation in Visible and in Near-Infrared Light
These images by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope reveal how different the iconic Pillars of Creation appear in visible and in near-infrared light.
In the visible-light image at left, astronomers combined several exposures to show a wider view of the pillars and the surrounding region. The towering pillars are about 5 light-years tall. The tenuous-looking base of the columns is shown.
The near-infrared image at right transforms the pillars into eerie, wispy silhouettes, which are seen against a background of myriad stars. The near-infrared light can penetrate much of the gas and dust, revealing stars behind the nebula as well as hidden away inside the pillars. Some of the gas and dust clouds are so dense that even the near-infrared light cannot penetrate them. New stars embedded in the tops of the pillars, however, are apparent as bright sources that are unseen in the visible image.
The ghostly bluish haze around the dense edges of the pillars is material getting heated up by the intense ultraviolet radiation from a cluster of young, massive stars and evaporating away into space. The stellar grouping is above the pillars and cannot be seen in the image. At the top edge of the left-hand pillar, a gaseous fragment has been heated up and is flying away from the structure, underscoring the violent nature of star-forming regions.
Both images were taken with Hubble's versatile Wide Field Camera 3. For the near-infrared image, astronomers used filters that isolate the light from newly formed stars, which are invisible in the visible-light image. At these wavelengths, astronomers are seeing through the pillars and even through the back wall of the nebula cavity and can see the next generations of stars just as they're starting to emerge from their formative nursery. In the visible-light image, oxygen is represented in blue, sulfur in orange, and hydrogen and nitrogen in green.