This NASA Hubble Space Telescope image, taken in near-infrared light, transforms the pillars into eerie, wispy silhouettes, which are seen against a background of myriad stars.
The near-infrared light can penetrate much of the gas and dust, revealing stars behind the nebula as well as hidden away inside the pillars. Some of the gas and dust clouds are so dense that even the near-infrared light cannot penetrate them. New stars embedded in the tops of the pillars, however, are apparent as bright sources that are unseen in the visible image.
The ghostly bluish haze around the dense edges of the pillars is material getting heated up by the intense ultraviolet radiation from a cluster of young, massive stars and evaporating away into space. The stellar grouping is above the pillars and cannot be seen in the image. At the top edge of the left-hand pillar, a gaseous fragment has been heated up and is flying away from the structure, underscoring the violent nature of star-forming regions.
Astronomers used filters that isolate the light from newly formed stars, which are invisible in the visible-light image. At these wavelengths, astronomers are seeing through the pillars and even through the back wall of the nebula cavity and can see the next generations of stars just as they’re starting to emerge from their formative nursery.
Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)