Hubble Revisits an Icon

SCIENCE

Twenty years ago, the Hubble Space Telescope snapped one of its most iconic images ever. The three towering columns of gas bathed in the light of hot, young stars came to be called the Pillars of Creation—and they showed up on everything from t-shirts to coffee mugs to rugs. Now, to celebrate its 25th anniversary, Hubble has taken a new image of the well-known region. And it’s even better. (National Geographic)

Use our resources to zoom in on this spectacular image—this is a great use of our high-resolution feature!

Teachers, scroll down for a short list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit.

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has revisited its famous 1995 photo of the "Pillars of Creation," a stellar nursery in the Eagle Nebula. In the words of one of our favorite astronomers, "Holy. Yikes. And this isn’t even the high-res version; here’s the 6,780 x 7,071 image if you want to choke down the 33 Mb file. And you do, because wow." Photograph by NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has revisited its famous 1995 photo of the “Pillars of Creation,” a stellar nursery in the Eagle Nebula. In the words of one of our favorite astronomers, “Holy. Yikes. And this isn’t even the high-res version; here’s the 6,780 x 7,071 image if you want to choke down the 33 Mb file. And you do, because wow.” (You don’t even have to—we’ve done it for you!)
Photograph by NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Discussion Ideas

  • Why do you think astronomers have nicknamed this part of the Eagle Nebula the “Pillars of Creation”?
    • Pillars . . . The long clouds of cosmic dust look like pillars. Pillars, also called columns, are vertical structures used for support or decoration.
    • . . .of Creation . . . New stars are being created inside the pillars’ dusty swirls.

 

  • Why is the “Pillars of Creation” name a little misleading?
    • Pillars . . . Pillars are vertical, but concepts like “vertical,” “horizontal,” “up,” or “down” don’t have a lot of meaning to astronomers because there is no standard frame of reference in outer space. (We even flip images to have them conform to what we think space should look like!) Here is a beautiful view of the Eagle Nebula with the Pillars of Creation offset just a little. Here’s another. There’s no wrong way to look at this!
    • . . . of Creation . . . According to the Nat Geo article, “though these are known as the pillars of creation, astronomer Paul Scowen notes that they’re also regions of destruction. ‘The ghostly bluish haze around the dense edges of the pillars is material getting heated up and evaporating away into space.'” Watch this hangout to learn more from Dr. Scowen about the new images, Hubble, and stellar nurseries.

 

This image compares Hubble's 1995 and 2014 images of the Pillars of Creation. Photograph by NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

This image compares Hubble’s 1995 and 2014 images of the Pillars of Creation.
Photograph by NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

  • Compare these two images of the Pillars of Creation. The new-and-improved image on the right looks a little different than the still-beautiful original on the left. The images were taken by the same camera, using the same visible-light filter, of the same region of the sky. Why do you think the photos look different?
    • The newer photo is much sharper, meaning it offers much more detail the the original.
    • The newer photo also has a wider field of view, meaning it displays a greater angular area. Astronomers combined several exposures to show the wider field of view.

 

This image of the Pillars of Creation compares the visible (left) and near-infrared (right) versions. Photograph by NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

This image of the Pillars of Creation compares versions taken in visible (left) and near-infrared (right) light.
Photograph by NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

 

  • How did astronomers take a color photo using visible light? (It’s not as simple as it seems!)
    • According to Hubble’s Color Toolbox: “Hubble’s cameras record light from the universe with special electronic detectors. These detectors produce images of the cosmos in shades of black and white. Finished color images are actually combinations of two or more black-and-white exposures to which color has been added during image processing. The colors in Hubble images, which are assigned for various reasons, aren’t always what we’d see if we were able to visit the imaged objects in a spacecraft. We often use color as a tool, whether it is to enhance an object’s detail or to visualize what ordinarily could never be seen by the human eye.” So, although the image was taken in the visible-light part of the spectrum it probably isn’t quite what our eyes would see.
    • Here’s how astronomers colored the 1995 image. Ionized oxygen is represented in blue, sulfur in orange, and hydrogen and nitrogen in green.

 

  • How did astronomers take a photo using infrared light?
    • According to Hubble, “For the near-infrared image, astronomers used filters that isolate the light from newly formed stars, which are invisible in the visible-light image. At these wavelengths, astronomers are seeing through the pillars and even through the back wall of the nebula cavity and can see the next generations of stars just as they’re starting to emerge from their formative nursery.”

 

 

 

Expect more showstoppers as NASA rolls out the (infra)red carpet for Hubble's 25th birthday on April 20. Here's another new one—it's our cosmic neighbor, the Andromeda Galaxy. It's deceptively dazzling—let Phil Plait tell you about it here. Photograph by NASA, ESA, J. Dalcanton, B.F. Williams, and L.C. Johnson (University of Washington), the PHAT team, and R. Gendler

Expect more showstoppers as NASA rolls out the (infra)red carpet for Hubble’s 25th birthday on April 24. Here’s another new one—it’s our cosmic neighbor, the Andromeda Galaxy. The image is deceptively dazzling—let Phil Plait tell you about it here.
Photograph by NASA, ESA, J. Dalcanton, B.F. Williams, and L.C. Johnson (University of Washington), the PHAT team, and R. Gendler

TEACHERS’ TOOLKIT

Nat Geo: Hubble Revisits an Icon, the Pillars of Creation

Nat Geo: Pillars of Creation

Nat Geo: Electromagnetic Spectrum

HubbleSite: Eagle Nebula—Enhanced Color

HubbleSite: Hubble Goes High Def to Revisit the Iconic ‘Pillars of Creation’

NASA: Famous Space Pillars Feel the Heat of Star’s Explosion

(extra credit video! Hubble Space Telescope: Hubble Hangouts @AAS 225 #2: Hubble 25th Anniversary Image Release)

2 responses to “Hubble Revisits an Icon

  1. Pingback: D’you Know about Juno? | Nat Geo Education Blog·

  2. Pingback: NASA Mission Will Look for Life | Nat Geo Education Blog·

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