The Eagle Nebula is a star-forming region of the universe located within the dense Carina-Sagittarius spiral arm of the Milky Way. The towering ‘Stellar Spire’ column of ultra-cold dust and ionised gas which is pictured here represents just a tiny portion of the nebula. The dense gases and solid-butminuscule particles inside nebulas are the major ingredients necessary for creating young stars. New stars form when clumps of this gassy, dusty matter collapse under gravity.
The Eagle Nebula would appear dark to us were it not for the intense light coming from nearby star clusters, which illuminate the interstellar matter from behind. The atoms of gas and dust in emission nebulas like this glow due to energy from local stars.
Stars don’t just make nebulas easier to see; they also create some pretty unusual formations inside them. The star-making dust and gas of the Stellar Spire has been boiled away by the ultraviolet (UV) radiation emitted by stars formed in the nebula, leaving behind a dramatic sculpted pillar.
Within the main nebula a cavernous hollow has formed a protective shell around an open cluster of stars that continues to form and give out light energy. This cold wall of dust and gas is being pushed back by the UV radiation, boiling away the lower-density stellar material to leave behind the denser matter in the shape of tall towers with globules of dark dust and gas on their surfaces.
The three Pillars of Creation, famously photographed by the Hubble telescope in 1995, are examples of such dust columns surrounded by glowing ionised gas. They are thought to be the birthplace of many stars.