Hubble Telescope Captures Spectacular New Views of 'Pillars of Creation'

SEATTLE — A famous deep-space object imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope 20 years ago has been reborn in an amazing new photo.

Scientists pointed the telescope at the iconic Eagle Nebula, also known as Messier 16 (M16), capturing the famous "Pillars of Creation" in sharper and wider view. The new and improved image was possible thanks to upgrades made to the Hubble Space Telescope over the past 25 years. You can see the new Pillars of Creation image in detail in a breathtaking new video of the Hubble views as well.

"It allows us to demonstrate how far Hubble has come in 25 years of observation," Paul Scowen, of Arizona State University, said during a news conference here at the 225th meeting of the American Astronomical Society Monday (Jan. 5). Scowen was one of the astronomers who helped take the original iconic image. [See more amazing images from Hubble]

"It really is quite remarkable," he added.

The Hubble Space Telescope has taken a fresh look at the iconic Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula 6,500 light-years from Earth, revealing the most detailed view yet of a feature Hubble originally discovered 20 years ago. The new image was taken to commemorate Hubble's 25th anniversary in 2015. (Image credit: ASA, ESA/Hubble and the Hubble Heritage Team)

Dubbed the "Pillars of Creation" when it was discovered in 1995, the Eagle Nebula view is arguably the most famous of all of Hubble's images. It has appeared on postage stamps, T-shirts and pillows, and even made the rounds in television shows and movies. Located approximately 7,000 light-years from the sun, M16 is a region of gas and dust where stars form at a rapid clip.

The new Hubble image utilizes the Wide Field Camera 3, installed in 2009, to reveal the star-forming region at twice the resolution of the original instrument. As with the original image, taken by the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2, elements in the image appear as different colors: Red reveals singly ionized sulfur, blue shows double-ionized oxygen and green highlights hydrogen.

This comparison view shows the Eagle Nebula's famed Pillars of Creation as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1995 (right), and again 20 years later in 2015. The new image was captured by Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3, installed in 2009, which offers a clearer view of glowing oxygen, hydrogen and sulfur. (Image credit: NASA, ESA/Hubble and the Hubble Heritage Team, STScI, J. Hester and P. Scowen (Arizona State University))

Along with releasing the sharper new photo, the Hubble team revealed an image of the Eagle Nebula in the infrared wavelength, which cuts through the dust and gas to reveal significantly more stars.

"The pillars themselves become quite transparent in the infrared," Scowen said.

The infrared image reveals that the pillars still exist after two decades, with their dense ends shadowing the gas beneath them. The massive young stars at their hearts are violent places, with rapid stellar winds blowing away the lighter material. Gas between the columns evaporated long ago due to the heat from bright young stars.

An infrared view of the Eagle Nebula reveals many of the stars at the heart of its pillars. (Image credit: NASA, ESA/Hubble and the Hubble Heritage Team, STScI, J. Hester and P. Scowen (Arizona State University))

The new images also show changes that have taken place in the nebula over the past two decades. Several protostar systems create long jets that Scowen described as "signposts pointing back to 'We just made a star right here.'" Some of these squiggly jets, which cut through the dust and gas, have moved over in the time since the original image was taken.

Scowen called the images "a remarkable example of what Hubble has been able to do in its lifetime."

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Nola Taylor Redd
Live Science Contributor
Nola Taylor Redd is a contributing writer for Live Science and She combines her degrees in English and Astrophysics to write about science, with an emphasis on all things space-related.