JWST just took the best shot of his career

Here are the Pillars of Creation as you’ve never seen them before.

When the James Webb Space Telescope was still confined to NASA’s laboratories and was far from being operational, experts were already salivating at the idea of ​​looking at his wonderful photos. They were especially anxious to discover his representation of certain known regions of the sky; we can, for example, cite the Orion nebula, whose astrophysicist Olivier Bernet recently told us about observations (see our interview). Today it’s another highly anticipated photo that just dropped: here it is Pillars of Creation, JWST Publication.

First photographed by good old Hubble in 1995, this structure in the Eagle Nebula is one of the most iconic in the sky. It consists of giant towers of gas and dust that dominate a magnificent star-studded panorama. Some also see it as a kind of outstretched hand, as if desperately trying to grasp a distant object.

Apart from the obvious aesthetic qualities, this site quickly attracted the interest of researchers due to its scientific interest. As the name suggests, the Pillars of Creation are first-class star factories; at the center of these stellar nurseries, gas and dust engage in a mysterious ballet that leads to the formation of numerous stars.

These regions are full of invaluable information for professionals. The problem is that these interesting clouds are also almost opaque. Traditional telescopes, such as Hubble, are more or less unable to determine what is happening in the middle of these columns.

Comparison of photos of the Pillars of Creation seen by Hubble (left) and JWST (right) © NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI; Joseph De Pasquale (STScI), Anton M. Kukemoer (STScI), Alyssa Pagan (STScI).

It is for this reason that JWST was developed; With its ability to observe in the infrared range and exceptional performance, it can capture details that no other telescope has ever had access to. And that’s exactly what he just did with the Pillars of Creation.

A new look at an iconic piece of heaven

For the first time, we can open the heart of these huge structures. It was almost invisible in the images provided by Hubble. Astronomers will be able to use these observations to improve their models. In particular, they will try to identify individual stars with a precision that was previously simply unthinkable.

But, first of all, there are many of them nodes denser than the rest of the clouds. In these regions, matter accumulates until it reaches a critical mass; at this point, the knot collapses under its own gravity, thus giving birth to a whole new star.

These items also play a role in the structure of the pillars. At the ends we see wavy lines that almost look like jets of lava during a volcanic eruption. In fact, it is a consequence of jets of matter that are catapulted at very high speed by young stars. As they move, they create significant turbulence, so these structures have the form of wavelets.

The orange halo that appears in the upper part of the second and third columns is formed by superheated hydrogen molecules; they themselves are formed during the interaction between the jets and the neighboring cloud.

Researchers will now use these images in the hope of obtaining crucial data; they will allow them to improve their knowledge of the life cycle of stars, nebulae and galaxies. Something that makes great strides in our overall understanding of the world around us.

In the meantime, this image deserves pride of place in Webb’s already well-stocked photo album. Like Orion, the Stephane Quintet or the Tarantula Nebula, this is an observation that is invaluable to researchers and exciting to hobbyists; and this list will continue to grow, to the delight of space lovers.

The full image is available on the NASA website.

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