Fusion of Near and Mid-Infrared Shows Pillars of Creation Like Never Before

Pillars of Creation

Scientists have fused captures of the Pillars of Creation taken by the near-infrared and mid-infrared instruments on board the James Webb Space Telescope to show the star-forming region of space like never before.

In October, the James Webb Space Telescope (Webb) captured an incredibly detailed 122-megapixel photo of the Pillars of Creation that revealed significantly more information about the subset of the Eagle Nebula, which lies 6,500 light-years away from Earth, than ever before.

The Pillars of Creation was made famous by a photo captured by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1995, and the amount of detail the Webb was able to capture by comparison is staggering.

That achievement was already impressive, but the Webb team has taken that data, which was captured with the advanced telescope’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and combined it with a photo captured in the mid-infrared via the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI). The result combines the detail of stars which primarily show up in near-infrared light with dust that is only visible in the mid-infrared.

The result is a photo that has stunning star detail combined with a rainbow of colors.

“In mid-infrared light, the dust is on full display,” the Webb team says. “The contributions from Webb’s MIRI are most apparent in the layers of diffuse, orange dust that drape the top of the image, relaxing into a V. The densest regions of dust are cast in deep indigo hues, obscuring our view of the activities inside the dense pillars.”

The spire-like pillars that extend from bottom left to top right are made of dust, which is one of the reasons the area is so alive with star formation. The Webb team explains that dust is a major ingredient in star formation.

“When knots of gas and dust with sufficient mass form in the pillars, they begin to collapse under their own gravitational attraction, slowly heat up, and eventually form new stars. Newly formed stars are especially apparent at the edges of the top two pillars – they are practically bursting onto the scene,” the scientists explain.

“At the top edge of the second pillar, undulating detail in red hints at even more embedded stars. These are even younger, and are quite active as they form. The lava-like regions capture their periodic ejections. As stars form, they periodically send out supersonic jets that can interact within clouds of material, like these thick pillars of gas and dust. These young stars are estimated to be only a few hundred thousand years old, and will continue to form for millions of years.”

The full-resolution 47.59-megapixel photo can be viewed on the Webb Telescope’s website.

Image credits: Science courtesy of NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI. Image processing by Joseph DePasquale (STScI), Alyssa Pagan (STScI), Anton M. Koekemoer (STScI)