Composite of portions of Pillars of Creation as show by Hubble and Webb telescopes.
This image is a mosaic of visible-light and infrared-light views of the same frame from the Pillars of Creation visualization video. The three-dimensional model of the pillars created for the visualization sequence shows the Hubble Space Telescope version (visible light) and the Webb Space Telescope version (infrared light). Image via NASA/ Webb.

Webb Space Telescope originally published this article on June 26, 2024. Edits by EarthSky.

Pillars of Creation

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope made the Pillars of Creation famous in 1995. It’s the heart of the Eagle Nebula and it captured imaginations worldwide with their arresting, ethereal beauty.

Now, NASA has released a new 3D visualization of these towering celestial structures using data from NASA’s Hubble and James Webb space telescopes. This is the most comprehensive and detailed multiwavelength movie yet of these star-birthing clouds.

The principal visualization scientist Frank Summers of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, led the movie development team for NASA’s Universe of Learning. Summers said:

By flying past and amongst the pillars, viewers experience their three-dimensional structure and see how they look different in the Hubble visible-light view versus the Webb infrared-light view. The contrast helps them understand why we have more than one space telescope to observe different aspects of the same object.

The four Pillars of Creation are made primarily of cool molecular hydrogen and dust. They are being eroded by the fierce winds and punishing ultraviolet light of nearby hot, young stars. Finger-like structures larger than the solar system protrude from the tops of the pillars. Within these fingers can be embedded, embryonic stars. The tallest pillar stretches across 3 light-years, 3/4 of the distance between our sun and the next nearest star.

Movie of the Pillars of Creation

The movie takes visitors into the three-dimensional structures of the pillars. Rather than an artistic interpretation, the video is based on observational data from a science paper led by Anna McLeod. McLeod is an associate professor at the University of Durham in the United Kingdom. McLeod also served as a scientific advisor on the movie project.

Production lead Greg Bacon of STScI said:

The Pillars of Creation were always on our minds to create in 3D. Webb data in combination with Hubble data allowed us to see the Pillars in more complete detail. Understanding the science and how to best represent it allowed our small, talented team to meet the challenge of visualizing this iconic structure.

The new visualization (video above) helps viewers experience how two of the world’s most powerful space telescopes work together to provide a more complex and holistic portrait of the pillars. Hubble sees objects that glow in visible light, at thousands of degrees. Webb’s infrared vision is sensitive to cooler objects. So it sees temperatures of just hundreds of degrees, and pierces through obscuring dust to see stars embedded in the pillars.

Using different wavelengths

According to Mark Clampin, Astrophysics Division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington:

When we combine observations from NASA’s space telescopes across different wavelengths of light, we broaden our understanding of the universe. The Pillars of Creation region continues to offer us new insights that hone our understanding of how stars form. Now, with this new visualization, everyone can experience this rich, captivating landscape in a new way.

STScI, with partners at Caltech/IPAChe, produced the 3D visualization for NASA, and the AstroViz Project of NASA’s Universe of Learning developed it. It is part of a longer, narrated video. It combines a direct connection to the science and scientists of NASA’s Astrophysics missions. Plus, it enables viewers to explore fundamental questions in science, experience how they do science and discover the universe for themselves.

Star formation

Several stages of star formation are in the visualization. First, as viewers approach the central pillar, they see at its top an embedded, infant protostar glimmering bright red in infrared light. Then, near the top of the left pillar is a diagonal jet of material ejected from a newborn star. Though the jet is evidence of star birth, viewers can’t see the star itself. Finally, at the end of one of the left pillar’s protruding “fingers” is a blazing, brand-new star.

Additionally, a bonus product from this visualization is a new 3D printable model of the Pillars of Creation. The base model of the four pillars used in the visualization has been adapted to the STL file format. So viewers can download the model file and print it out on 3D printers. Examining the structure of the pillars in this tactile and interactive way adds new perspectives and insights to the overall experience.

Three shapes on curved dome. The shapes illustrate a 3D visualization of the Pillars of Creation.
This photograph shows a 3D printed model of the famous Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula. The 3D sculpted computer model used in the Pillars of Creation visualization. It is converted to STL file format and set atop a round base for use with 3D printers. Image via NASA / Webb.

Bottom line: NASA has released a new 3D visualization of the Pillars of Creation using data from NASA’s Hubble and James Webb space telescopes.

Via Webb Telescope

Read more: Pillars of Creation and more: Video and images

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