The gas pillars of the Eagle Nebula, 6500 light-years away, are clouds of molecular hydrogen gas and dust several light years in length and so dense that gas in the interior undergoes gravitational collapse to form stars. The interior of the Nebula is thus a region of active star formation.
The images of the Eagle Nebula
captured by the Hubble telescope in 1995, suffered the consequences of a technological limitation: astronomers were unable to see through the clouds of dust and gas at the structures and star formation activity going on within. According to MSNBC
, in 2001, a near-infrared image by the 8.2-meter VLT's ANTU telescope, using the ISAAC instrument at the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope facility in Chile, managed to reveal some of the young star formations beyond the gas and dust. Astronomers were able to determine from the near-infrared images that 11 of the Pillars' 73 structures called Evaporating Gaseous Globules (EEGs) could contain young star formations within. Astronomers also concluded from the images that the tips of the gas pillars contain stars not revealed in the Hubble image.
With the latest images from the ESA Herschel Space Observatory
captured in far-infrared wavelengths, astronomers can now see through the obscuring gas and dust even more clearly. They achieved this by combining images from the ESA Herschel Space Observatory
with X-ray readings from the XMM-Newton probe (both observatories produce images from different ranges of the electromagnetic spectrum). New hot young star clusters, besides the already known NGC6611, forming within the gas and dust were revealed.
The young stars are generating radiation interacting with surrounding dust only a few degrees above absolute zero, creating hollowed-out regions within the gas clouds in which new star systems are formed. The new images also show clearly the points of strong X-ray emission within the system.
With the new images, astronomers now believe that one of the stars in NGC6611 clusters went supernova generating an explosion shock that may have collapsed the "Pillars of Creation," though we may not see them collapse in the next few hundred years because of the time it would take for light carrying the information to reach us.