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Star Formation: The Eagle Nebula

Cosmic Cocoon Full Story Below

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Eroded pillars of gas and dust glow with heat from bright young stars.

Near-infrared light reveals stars surrounding the pillars and forming inside them, but some dust is still too dense to see through.

Forming stars nestle inside dense cocoons of gas and dust, which are gradually being eroded by the strong stellar winds of young stars in the surrounding nebula.

Most of the stars emitting high-energy X-ray light in the nebula are outside the pillars.

Radiation from the nebula’s hot young stars erodes gas and dust in some areas while compressing it in others. Gravity further compresses this material to form new stars.

Far-Infrared
near-infrared
visible
x-ray
multi-wavelength

Star Formation: The Eagle Nebula

Stars form from the remains of previous generations of stars.

Stars are formed as part of an amazing recycling process, in which gravity shapes new stars from the gas and dust expelled by old stars. Once formed, massive young stars regulate the formation of lower-mass stars with their powerful winds, blowing gas and dust out of some areas while compressing it in others. As stars form, they are hidden inside their “parent” cocoons of dust that visible light cannot penetrate, but they emit infrared light that passes through the dust clouds and can be detected by infrared telescopes.

The Eagle Nebula offers views of a stellar nursery in multiple wavelengths, allowing us to see both the dense cocoons of dust and the stars forming within. The nebula is home to three thick columns of dust and gas where stars are forming, known as the Pillars of Creation. Even at 5 light-years tall, the pillars have been eroded by stellar winds and are nearing the end of their star production phase. Most of the nebula’s hot young stars surround them, bathing them in glowing radiation that continues to chip away at their shape.

Quick Facts: The Eagle Nebula

Also known as: M16 (Messier 16)

Type of object: Star-forming nebula

Distance from Earth: 6,500 light-years

Size: About 5 light-years tall

Location in the sky: Serpens Cauda Constellation

Location in the universe: Sagittarius-Carina spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy

Did you know: We are seeing the Eagle Nebula as it was 6,500 years ago—the time it has taken for its light to reach us. The shape of the pillars has likely changed, but that light has not yet reached us.

Explore More About Star Formation

Find out more with these additional resources from NASA’s Universe of Learning

Astro vis Astroviz
Flight through the Orion Nebula in Visible and Infrared
Astropix AstroPix
Star Formation Nebulas
Universe unplugged Universe Unplugged
A Star is Born!
Universe of learning Universe of Learning
Lagoon Nebula Astrophoto Challenge

Credits: The Eagle Nebula

Far-infrared image of the Eagle Nebula from Herschel Space Telescope: ESA

Near-infrared image of the Eagle Nebula from Hubble Space Telescope: NASA/ESA

Visible light image of the Eagle Nebula from Hubble Space Telescope: NASA, ESA

X-ray image of the Eagle Nebula from Chandra X-ray Observatory: NASA

Multi-wavelength image of the Eagle Nebula (far-infrared, visible, X-ray): NASA, ESA, J. Depasquale

Content development by Leah Ramsay, Timothy Rhue II, Dr. Brandon Lawton

Design by Elizabeth Wheatley, John Godfrey

Web Development by Philippe Batigne

Subject-matter expertise provided by Elena Sabbi