James Webb Space Telescope snaps new, super-spooky image of Pillars of Creation

This gloomy view of an iconic space dust structure is just the Halloween mood we need.

James Webb Space Telescope scientists have released a second view of the iconic Pillars of Creation, this one peering deep into the mid-infrared. The dust clouds appear to glow in blue tinges, and loom in front of a red-hued background. 

"Thousands of stars that exist in this region disappear from view — and seemingly endless layers of gas and dust become the centerpiece," European Space Agency officials wrote (opens in new tab) Friday (Oct. 28) of the fresh image.

Dust, officials added, is an essential ingredient for star formation and helps scientists figuring out the formation and evolution of the structure, which is located in the constellation Serpens, some 7,000 light-years away from Earth. 

Related: The James Webb Space Telescope never disproved the Big Bang. Here's how that falsehood spread.

two pillars of dust in blue wavelengths with a red infrared glow in space behind (Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, J. DePasquale (STScI), A. Pagan (STScI))

"Many stars are actively forming in these dense blue-grey pillars. When knots of gas and dust with sufficient mass form in these regions, they begin to collapse under their own gravitational attraction, slowly heat up, and eventually form new stars," ESA officials said in the same statement.

It was the venerable Hubble Space Telescope that first observed the column-like clouds in interstellar space a generation ago. That observatory, which remains active and healthy, has revisited the 1995 image several times. But Hubble and Webb are tuned to different types of light.

That's the difference in the two recent photos as well: The new imagery from Webb's Mid-Infrared Instrument follows an image from its Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) released earlier this month. Both photos also showcase the pillars in much more detail than is possible with Hubble, thanks to Webb's bigger mirror and deep-space outpost.

The NIRCam image shows off the cloud's structure, as well as numerous stars that were invisible in previous images that were formed only a few hundred thousand years ago, NASA said in a statement (opens in new tab) at the time.

Elizabeth Howell is the co-author of "Why Am I Taller (opens in new tab)?" (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book about space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace (opens in new tab)Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or Facebook (opens in new tab).

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace