In a Different Light: The Eagle Nebula

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Viewing the cosmos in different types of light allows us to look into the shadows and better understand the structure, composition, and history of cosmic objects like the Eagle Nebula.

Produced by the Space Telescope Science Institute, Office of Public Outreach, in collaboration with NASA’s Universe of Learning partners: IPAC, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, and Sonoma State University.
  • Ground-based Digitized Sky Survey image: ESO, Digitized Sky Survey 2, Davide De Martin
  • Herschel Space Telescope image: ESA, Herschel, PACS, SPIRE, Hill, Motte, HOBYS Key Programme 
  • Hubble Space Telescope images: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
  • Chandra X-ray Observatory image: NASA, CXC, U. Colorado, Linsky et al.
  • Multi-wavelength image: NASA, ESA, Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), CXC, U. Colorado,  Linsky et al., and Zolt Levay (STScI)
  • Written by Margaret W. Carruthers
  • Designed by Dani Player
  • Science review lead: Dr. Brandon Lawton
  • Education lead: Tim Rhue
  • Additional editorial input from: Dr. Janice Lee, IPAC; Amelia Chapman, JPL; Dr. Kathleen Lestition and Kimberly Arcand, Chandra X-ray Center; Dr. Lynn Cominsky and Dr. Laura Peticolas, Sonoma State University
  • Music: APM

Text, In A Different Light, The Eagle Nebula, Electromagnetic Spectrum. The Eagle Nebula, M 16, Quick Facts. Distance, 6,500 light-years. Constellation, Serpens Cauda. Location, Sagittarius-Carina spiral arm of the Milky Way Galaxy. A bar across the bottom of the screen reads, Radio, Microwave, Infrared, Visible, Ultraviolet, X-ray, Gamma Ray.
Text, In the mid-1700s French astronomer Charles Messier peered deep into the constellation Serpens and spotted, quote, a cluster of small stars, enmeshed in a faint glow, unquote. the object is now known as M 16, number 16 in Messier's famous Catalog of Nebulae and Star Clusters.
M 16 consists of an open star cluster, a group of around 8,000 stars that formed roughly 5 and a half million years ago, and a nebula, a glowing cloud of gas and dust.
Infrared and Visible are highlighted.
Text, Seen here in a combination of visible and infrared light, M 16 resembles a bird of prey in mid-flight, and is commonly known as the Eagle Nebula.
The eagle shape is highlighted in a thin white line.
Infrared is highlighted.
Text, An infrared light image from the Herschel Space Telescope highlights the glowing body of the Eagle Nebula.
A large area surrounded by dust, illuminated by the central cluster of bright, newly-formed stars.
An infrared photo of the nebula.
Text, The high-energy electromagnetic radiation emitted by the hot stars has carved a cavity into the cold shadowy dust of this star-forming region.
The word Visible is highlighted.
A closer look at the cavity.
Text, Protruding from the cavity walls are the iconic Pillars of Creation, photographed in visible light by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.
These immense towers of cold dust and gas block visible light, concealing the stars behind them and forming within them.
An infrared version of the pillars. The word infrared is highlighted.
Text, The infrared light detected by Hubble reveals thousands of stars beyond the pillars as well as a few stars forming within.
Unlike visible light,. infrared light can pass straight through the dense clouds of dust.
An X-ray version of the nebula. The word X-ray is highlighted.
Text, In the X-ray light detected by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, the pillars disappear.
Invisible because they do not reflect the X-rays of nearby stars or give off X-rays of their own.
A thin white line highlights where the pillars would be.
The words Visible and X-ray are highlighted.
Text, Hot stars, however, shine brightly with X-ray light. From low-energy X-rays shown in red to high-energy blue, the light passes straight through the pillars of gas and dust.
The words infrared, visible, and X-ray are highlighted.
Text, A multi-wavelength image shows the infrared, visible, and X-ray light of the stars, dust, and gas of the Eagle Nebula, and the stars that lie beyond it.
The image reveals that most of the stars glowing with X-rays lie outside the pillars, not within them, a sign that the star formation in this region may be past its prime.
Viewing the cosmos in different types of light allows us to look into the shadows and better understand the structure, composition, and history of cosmic objects like the Eagle Nebula.