Appearing like a winged fairy-tale creature poised on a pedestal, the billowing tower of gas and dust that rises from the stellar nursery known as the Spire in the Eagle Nebula or M16, is 57 trillion miles long (9.5 light-years or 91.7 trillion km), which is about twice the diameter of our solar system. The Nebula is in the Constellation Serpens (The Serpent), about 6,500 light-years from Earth.
Stars in the Eagle Nebula are born in clouds of cold hydrogen gas that reside in chaotic neighbourhoods, where energy from young stars sculpts fantasy-like landscapes in the gas. The Spire may be a giant incubator for those newborn stars. A torrent of ultraviolet light from a band of massive, hot, young stars off the top of the image is eroding the pillar. The starlight also is responsible for illuminating the tower’s rough surface. Ghostly streamers of gas can be seen boiling off this surface, creating the haze around the structure and highlighting its three-dimensional shape. The column is silhouetted against the background glow of more distant gas. Thick clouds of hydrogen gas and dust have survived longer than their surroundings in the face of a blast of ultraviolet light from the hot, young stars. Inside the gaseous tower, stars may be forming. The bumps and fingers of material in the centre of the tower are examples of these stellar birthing areas. These regions may look small but they are roughly the size of our solar system. The dominant colours in the image were produced by gas energized by the star cluster’s powerful ultraviolet light. The blue colour at the top is from glowing oxygen. The red colon in the lower region is from glowing hydrogen.
Credits: Hubble, Wikipedia.