Full release and photos online at http://www.eso.org/outreach/press-rel/pr-2001/phot-37-01.html


Through imaging at infrared wavelengths, evidence has been found for
recent star formation in the so-called “Pillars of Creation” in the Eagle
Nebula (also known as Messier 16), made famous when the NASA/ESA Hubble
Space Telescope (HST) obtained spectacular visible-wavelength images of
this object in 1995.

Those huge pillars of gas and dust are being sculpted and illuminated by
bright and powerful high-mass stars in the nearby NGC 6611 young stellar
cluster. The Hubble astronomers suggested that perhaps even younger stars
were forming inside.

Using the ISAAC instrument on the VLT 8.2-m ANTU telescope at the ESO
Paranal Observatory, European astronomers have now made a wide-field
infrared image of the Messier 16 region with excellent spatial resolution,
enabling them to penetrate the obscuring dust and search for light from
newly born stars.

Two of the three pillars are seen to have very young, relatively massive
stars in their tips. Another dozen or so lower-mass stars seem to be
associated with the small “evaporating gaseous globules (EGGs)” that the
Hubble astronomers had discovered scattered over the surface of the

These findings bring new evidence to several key questions about how stars
are born. Was the formation of these new stars triggered as the intense
ultraviolet radiation from the NGC 6611 stars swept over the pillars, or
were they already there? Will the new stars be prematurely cut off from
surrounding gas cloud, thus stunting their growth? If the new stars have
disks of gas and dust around them, will they be destroyed before they have
time to form planetary systems?

PR Photo 37a/01: Full wide-field ISAAC image of the Eagle Nebula.

PR Photo 37b/01: Close-up view of the ISAAC image, showing the famous
“Pillars of Creation”.

PR Photo 37c/01: Enlargement of the head of Column 1.

PR Photo 37d/01: Enlargement of the head of Column 2.

PR Photo 37e/01: Enlargement of the head of Column 4.

PR Video Clip 08a/01: A “dissolve” between the Hubble visible wavelength
and VLT infrared views of the pillars.

PR Video Clip 08b/01: Hubble and VLT views of the head of Column 1.