James Webb Telescope’s Pillars of Creation Photo Blows Hubble’s Out of the Sky
One of the Hubble Space Telescope’s most iconic of many beautiful photos has always been a shot of the immensely majestic Pillars of Creation.
The photo, captured in 1995 by the Earth-orbiting Hubble, has fired the imagination of more than one generation of space watchers in the decades since. Now, however, it has been completely outdone.
The much newer James Webb Space Telescope, with its insanely sophisticated camera technology for celestial observation, has recently captured a new shot of the Pillars and it’s truly breathtaking.
The James Web telescope was launched on Christmas Day of 2021 and reached its much deeper position in space at the L2 Lagrange Point between the Sun and the Earth in January of this year. By July, NASA was already releasing its first photos.
Unlike the now aging Hubble, which was launched 32 years ago in 1990, the James Web has a much better view of deep space from its location and also hosts a far larger light-collecting mirror for its remarkable astrophotography missions.
The James Webb’s mirror is six times bigger than Hubble’s, allowing it to take photos at an unprecedented level of sharpness and detail.
This latest photo of the Pillars of Creation is a perfect example of this. The stunning 122MP image was captured with Webb’s Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) device to better capture the space dust surrounding the colossal nebular structure.
The Pillars of Creation are essentially a star factory and the cosmic dust surrounding them is one of the key ingredients in this formation process, hence their name.
As the NASA Webb team explains, Many stars are actively forming in these dense blue-gray pillars. When knots of gas and dust with sufficient mass form in these regions, they begin to collapse under their own gravitational attraction, slowly heat up — and eventually form new stars,”
The roughly V-shaped reddish area near the top of the image is an area of space dust that’s warmer. The lower reaches of the Pillars, where you can see dark grey and bluish regions, is where space dust is cooler but denser.
It’s important to remember that this particular photo of the Pillars isn’t a representation of how it would look in natural light that’s visible to the naked eye. Instead, it captures a view in the mid-infrared spectrum, which stars don’t emit much of.
This is why, unlike the older Hubble image, few stars are visible in this small but spectacular corner of deep space.
If Webb were to capture the image in ultraviolet, visible light and near-infrared spectrum frequencies, many more stars would be visible. The telescope can indeed shoot photos in all of these wavelengths and has already taken them of the Pillars of Creation.
“The stars at the end of the thick, dusty pillars have recently eroded the material surrounding them. They show up in red because their atmospheres are still enshrouded in cloaks of dust. In contrast, blue tones indicate stars that are older and have shed most of their gas and dust,” As the Webb team elaborates.
The James Webb’s main telescope has a focal area of 131.4 m (431 ft) and the entire spacecraft weighs roughly 6,161.4 kg (13,584 lb). It cost over $10 billion dollars to build and is expected to stay in service between the sun and the earth for the next 20 years.
The stunning images above are shown in small format here. If you’d like to appreciate them in far larger detail, here are the originals.