The Eagle Nebula, 1995.
© National Aeronautics & Space Administration / Science & Society
These eerie, dark pillar-like structures are columns of cool interstellar hydrogen gas and dust that are also incubators for new stars. The pillars protrude from the interior wall of a dark molecular cloud like stalagmites from the floor of a cavern. They are part of the 'Eagle Nebula' also called M16, the 16th object in Charles Mesier's 18th century catalogue of 'fuzzy' objects that aren't comets. The Eagle Nebula is a nearby star-forming region 7,000 light years away in the constellation Serpens. Ultraviolet light is responsible for illuminating the convoluted surfaces of the columns and the ghostly streamers of gas boiling away from their surfaces, producing the dramatic visual effects that highlight the three dimensional nature of the clouds.