PASADENA, Calif. – A dazzling photo taken by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows colossal pillars of cool gas and dust, giving scientists an intimate look at the star-forming process.
The image released Wednesday shows the columns stretching out like fingers similar to an iconic photo taken of the Eagle Nebula by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1995. While the Hubble visible-light image was dubbed "Pillars of Creation," NASA describes the Spitzer infrared image as "cosmic mountains of creation."
The image reflects a region in space known as W5, in the constellation Cassiopeia 7,000 light years away, which is dominated by a single massive star.
The largest pillars — formed by radiation and winds from hot, massive stars — contain hundreds of newborn stars.
"We believe that the star clusters lighting up the tips of the pillars are essentially the offspring of the region's single, massive star," Lori Allen of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics said in a statement.
Spitzer was able to spy the stars being born inside the pillars because of its infrared capability. A visible light telescope would see the same region as dark columns outlined by specks of light.
Scientists believe the pillars eventually become dense enough to give rise to a second generation of stars, which may in turn, trigger successive generations.