In 1995, the Hubble Space Telescope snapped one of its most iconic images: the three towering columns of gas bathed in the light of hot, young stars called the Pillars of Creation, in the Eagle Nebula or M16, about 6,500 light-years away. Hubble’s new image of the well-known region is sharper than the original, with a wider field of view, and it reveals the spectacular tenuous base of the cold, gassy columns under infrared photography.
These composite infrared light photos can penetrate clouds of dust and gas that visible light cannot, and they reveal the pillars look like mere wisps set against a sea of countless stars. But inside those 5-light-year-tall towers are newborn stars. The uppermost tips of the pillars, the light blue parts that look as though they’re riding atop a bubbling cosmic eruption, where charged particles and radiation whip into celestial winds so chaotic they blast away the tops of the pillars, as seen in the leftmost column. Perhaps as evidence of this stellar battering, a tuft of gas near the top of the tallest pillar is flying away as atoms of gas are violently torn apart in a process called ionization.