Hubble's most iconic image? Looking back at the Pillars of Creation

The Pillars of creation is possibly the Hubble Space Telescope's most famous image. But what exactly does it show?

Published: April 25, 2020 at 8:04 am
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Hubble's famous 1995 image the 'Pillars of Creation'. Credit: NASA, ESA, STScI, J. Hester and P. Scowen (Arizona State University)

The Hubble Space Telescope's Pillars of Creation image was captured on 1 April 1995 and remains one of the most iconic visual representations of Hubble's legacy.

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Before Hubble, sharp, colourful images of nebulae and galaxies just did not exist to the degree of clarity that the space telescope was able to produce from its vantage point above the distortion of Earth's atmosphere.

The dark pillar-like structures are columns of cool hydrogen gas and dust. While they may look lifeless and dull, they actually contain the ingredients from which new stars may be born.

These pillars are part of M16, also known as the Eagle Nebula, and the fact that they are so dense enabled them to survive the ravages of space, while their surroundings have been swept away by ultraviolet light from hot, newborn stars.

In 2014, Hubble was pointed at the pillars once again to capture a new view of the target for its 20th birthday.

View more incredible Hubble Space Telescope images via our online gallery.

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Observatory Hubble Space Telescope
Release date 2 November 1995
Image credit NASA, ESA, STScI, J. Hester and P. Scowen (Arizona State University)

Authors

Iain Todd, BBC Sky at Night Magazine
Iain ToddScience journalist

Iain Todd is BBC Sky at Night Magazine's Staff Writer. He fell in love with the night sky when he caught his first glimpse of Orion, aged 10.

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