Astronomy Picture of the Day for February 3rd

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos!Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2012 February 3
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download the highest resolution version available.

Inside the Eagle Nebula
Credit: Far-infrared: ESA/Herschel/PACS/SPIRE/Hill, Motte, HOBYS Key Programme Consortium;
X-ray: ESA/XMM-Newton/EPIC/XMM-Newton-SOC/Boulanger 

Explanation: In 1995, a now famous picture from the Hubble Space Telescope featured Pillars of Creation, star forming columns of cold gas and dust light-years long inside M16, the Eagle Nebula. This remarkable false-color composite image revisits the nearby stellar nursery with image data from the orbiting Herschel Space Observatory and XMM-Newton telescopes. Herschel’s far infrared detectors record the emission from the region’s cold dust directly, including the famous pillars and other structures near the center of the scene. Toward the other extreme of the electromagnetic spectrum, XMM-Newton’s X-ray vision reveals the massive, hot stars of the nebula’s embedded star cluster. Hidden from Hubble’s view at optical wavelengths, the massive stars have a profound effect, sculpting and transforming the natal gas and dust structures with their energetic winds and radiation. In fact, the massive stars are short lived and astronomers have found evidence in the image data pointing to the remnant of a supernova explosion with an apparent age of 6,000 years. If true, the expanding shock waves would have destroyed the visible structures, including the famous pillars. But because the Eagle Nebula is some 6,500 light-years distant, their destruction won’t be witnessed for hundreds of years.

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos!Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2011 November 1
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will downloadthe highest resolution version available.

The Fairy of Eagle Nebula
Image Credit: The Hubble Heritage Team, (STScI/AURA), ESA, NASA 

Explanation: The dust sculptures of the Eagle Nebula are evaporating. As powerful starlight whittles away these cool cosmic mountains, the statuesque pillars that remain might be imagined as mythical beasts. Pictured above is one of several striking dust pillars of the Eagle Nebula that might be described as a gigantic alien fairy. This fairy, however, is ten light years tall and spews radiation much hotter than common fire. The greater Eagle Nebula, M16, is actually a giant evaporating shell of gas and dust inside of which is a growing cavity filled with a spectacular stellar nursery currently forming an open cluster of stars. The above image in scientifically re-assigned colors was released in 2005 as part of the fifteenth anniversary celebration of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope.