Ghostly figures emerge from Pillars of Creation in new Webb telescope image

Jul 12, 2023, 6:00 AM

The James Webb Space Telescope captured a new perspective of the Pillars of Creation in mid-infrare...

The James Webb Space Telescope captured a new perspective of the Pillars of Creation in mid-infrared light. The dust of this star-forming region is the highlight and resembles ghostly figures. Photo credit: NASA/ESA/CSA/STScI

(CNN) — The James Webb Space Telescope has glimpsed the dark side of the usually ethereal Pillars of Creation, located 6,500 light-years away in the Eagle Nebula.

Last week, the space observatory showcased a scintillating near-infrared view of the iconic towers, which are made of interstellar dust and gas and glimmer with young stars.

The three dimensional structures are as massive as they appear, about 5 light-years in length. (A light-year is about 6 trillion miles.)

In Webb’s latest image, which captured the iconic feature in mid-infrared light, the gray and velvet-like dust resembles a twisted snarl of ghostly figures leaping out across the cosmos. The stars are hidden by the dust, but some of them pierce through the darkness in red light.

It’s an entirely new perspective on the heavenly scene first observed by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1995 and again in 2014.

Infrared light is invisible to the human eye, making Webb our detective that can spy otherwise hidden aspects of the universe. The new image, taken by Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument, or MIRI, captures more detail about the dust and structure of the pillars.

Although thousands of stars have formed within the pillars and they usually gleam as the central feature, their starlight can’t be detected in mid-infrared light. Instead, MIRI only spies the youngest stars that haven’t shed their dusty shells and they shine like rubies in the image. Meanwhile, blue stars in the scene represent older stars that have shed layers of gas and dust.

Webb’s mid-infrared capability can pick out details in the gas and dust of the pillars and its surrounding area. In the background of the image, dense dust regions are depicted in gray, while the red, horizon-like region is where cooler and more diffuse dust lingers.

Unlike many of Webb’s recent images, no background galaxies gleam in the background because their distant light isn’t able to break through.

The mid-infrared perspective on the Pillars of Creation will allow researchers to better understand the process of star formation over millions of years in this stellar nursery.

Other telescopes, including the Spitzer Space Telescope, have observed the pillars across different wavelengths of light. Each new look at the iconic scene reveals new aspects, more details and precise measurement of the gas, dust and stars within, allowing for a better understanding of this breathtaking region.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Science + Technology

nasa team grabs asteroid sample from utah base...

Adam Small

NASA asteroid sample preparing to leave Utah

The asteroid sample that landed in Utah on Sunday will be divided among scientists across the world for generations of research.

20 hours ago

What does it mean to be human? For a long time, the answer seemed clear. Our species, Homo sapiens ...


Science paints a new picture of the ancient past, when we mixed and mated with other kinds of humans

The science of human evolution has made big leaps in recent years, and it’s painting a new picture of our origins.

2 days ago

(CNN) — Seven years after launching to space, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft flew by Earth Sunday to ...

Ashley Strickland, CNN

A long-awaited asteroid sample has landed in the US

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft delivered a sample collected from the asteroid Bennu to Earth Sunday.

2 days ago

(Photo Stone Johnson) Follow @amandadickson...

Amanda Dickson

STEMFest at Mountain America Expo Center

When you walk into the Mountain America Expo Center today, you’ll see STEMFest 2023.

7 days ago

Image of the ChatGPT page of the OpenAI website. Story - a tech expert in Utah says distinguishing ...

Curt Gresseth

Artificial intelligence joins politics for 2024 presidential race. Can you spot the fake?

Artificial intelligence has joined the presidential campaign trail. As a voter, do you know how to spot the fake?

13 days ago

Image of a woman walking and looking at her cell phone. Story - BYU alumni created a new app called...

Michael Camit

New app Smack Social making planning social events easier

BYU alumni created a new app called Smack Social, and its mission is to make event planning easy and rewarding.

13 days ago

Sponsored Articles

silhouette of a family looking over a lake with a bird in the top corner flying...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

8 Fun Activities To Do in Bear Lake Without Getting in the Water

Bear Lake offers plenty of activities for the whole family to enjoy without having to get in the water. Catch 8 of our favorite activities.

Wellsville Mountains in the spring with a pond in the foreground...

Wasatch Property Management

Advantages of Renting Over Owning a Home

Renting allows you to enjoy luxury amenities and low maintenance without the long-term commitment and responsibilities of owning a home.

Clouds over a red rock vista in Hurricane, Utah...

Wasatch Property Management

Why Southern Utah is a Retirement Paradise

Retirement in southern Utah offers plenty of cultural and recreational opportunities. Find out all that this region has to offer.

Human hand holding a protest banner stop vaping message over a crowded street background....

Prosperous Utah Communities

Utah’s Battle to Protect Youth from Vaping Epidemic Faces New Threat as Proposed Rule Threatens Progress

Utah's strict standards of nicotine levels in vaping products are at risk, increasing health hazards associated with use. Read more about how you can advocate for a better future for Utah's youth.

Aerial photo of Bear Lake shoreline with canopies and people camped out on the beach...

Visit Bear Lake

Last-Minute Summer Vacation Planning? Check Out Bear Lake!

Bear Lake is the perfect getaway if you are last-minute summer vacation planning. Enjoy activities with your whole family at this iconic lake.

close up of rose marvel saliva blooms in purple...

Shannon Cavalero

Drought Tolerant Perennials for Utah

The best drought tolerant plants for Utah can handle high elevations, alkaline soils, excessive exposure to wind, and use of secondary water.

Ghostly figures emerge from Pillars of Creation in new Webb telescope image