Two decades after capturing the iconic image of the Eagle Nebula's "Pillars of Creation", Nasa's Hubble Space Telescope – which turns 25 this year – has captured even clearer and more stunning high-definition images of these beautiful structures.
The telescope had earlier captured the three impressive towers of gas and dust in 1995, which revealed never-before-seen details in the giant columns.
The captured image is part of the Eagle Nebula, otherwise known as Messier 16, and although such features are not uncommon in star- forming regions, these structures are by far the most photogenic and evocative ever captured.
The recent image shows the famous pillars, capturing the multi-coloured glow of gas clouds, wispy tendrils of dark cosmic dust, and the rust-coloured elephants' trunks with the newer Wide Field Camera 3, installed in 2009.
In addition to this new visible-light image, Hubble has also produced a bonus image, which is taken in infrared light, penetrating much of the obscuring dust and gas and unveils a more unfamiliar view of the pillars, transforming them into wispy silhouettes set against a background peppered with stars.
Although the original image was dubbed the "Pillars of Creation", this new image hints that they are also pillars of destruction. The dust and gas in these pillars is seared by intense radiation from the young stars forming within them, and eroded by strong winds from massive nearby stars.
The ghostly bluish haze around the dense edges of the pillars in the visible-light view is material that is being heated by bright young stars and evaporating away.
The infrared image shows that the reason the pillars exist is because the very ends of them are dense, and they shadow the gas below them, creating the long, pillar-like structures and the gas in between the pillars has long since been blown away by the winds from a nearby star cluster.