The James Webb Space Telescope acquainted its lenses on the scandalous “pillars of creation” – an extensive, sculptural spectrum of gas, dust and baby stars in the Milky Way that has enchanted sky-watchers with its magnificence for decades.
The cosmic close-up captures the signature three-finger form of the pillars in unprecedented detail – including red, lava-like squiggles at the tips of several pillars representing supersonic jets of matter blasting out of still-forming stars.
But beyond the surface-level beauty, the image also reveals a hidden multitude of never-before-seen, newly-formed stars in and around the gas clouds.
According to NASA, this upgraded view of the iconic pillars will help astronomers hone their models of star formation, allowing them to count the precise numbers of stars and quantities of gas in the region.
Located in the Eagle Nebula about 6,500 light-years from Earth, the pillars became world famous in 1995 after the Hubble Space Telescope first revealed their beauty.
The towering blobs of gas and dust – the tallest of which spans about four light-years from base to tip, or about the distance from Earth to its closest neighboring star system, Alpha Centauri – have been likened to castles in the sky, cosmic stalagmites or glimpses of a deep-space coral reef.
Over millions of years, starlight has carved the gas cloud into the finger-like shapes we see today – but even now, the pillars are slowly being eroded by the young stars in and around them.
Even with their beauty slowly fading – and little more gas shaved off of their edges in every new telescope observation – the pillars of creation stay one of the most iconic designs in the night sky.