NASA is one of the few organizations in the world to make headlines for publishing better versions of old photos. That doesn’t work for most people when they post new photos from their trip to the Poconos or something.
But when it comes to the Pillars of Creation, he tends to be justified, even if the photos are only a week apart. Recently, the Webb Telescope used its near-infrared camera to release a sharper, more detailed image of the region with a view that peered through much of the space dust that normally obscures the area.
Like a photographer changing the settings on a camera, NASA then switched to the mid-infrared instrument. This helps illuminate the dust covering the scene, according to NASA.
“And while mid-infrared light specializes in pinpointing where dust is, stars aren’t bright enough at these wavelengths to show up. Instead, these looming pillars of leaden-colored gas and dust glow at their edges, hinting at activity within.
In this view, eerie blue gas and dust take precedence, and stars almost completely disappear from view. It gives the appearance of a big ghostly hand that seems to make the stars come to life (or at least do really fancy card tricks).
Which is something that is going on. Thousands of stars have been formed within the pillars, using the dust as the main ingredient in the recipe.
“Many stars are actively forming in these dense blue-gray pillars. When knots of gas and dust with sufficient mass form in these regions, they begin to collapse under their own gravitational pull, slowly heating up and eventually forming new stars,” NASA writes.
Located approximately 6,500 to 7,000 light-years from Earth in the Eagle Nebula, the Pillars of Creation photos have a long history of reissues, just like any other franchise. It first rose to fame when the Hubble Space Telescope observed it in 1995. Then the Heschel Space Observatory spotted it in 2011, followed by another attempt by Hubble in 2014 with a newer camera.
With these last two new ones captured in quick succession by the Webb telescope, we may soon be entering double-digit numbers. But unlike other franchises, these seem to be getting better.