The Pillars of Creation ~ M16 Star Cluster and Eagle Nebula
Optics:   Ritchey–Chrétien 20" F/8.2 (4166mm FL) Processing:   PixInsight, Photoshop
Camera:   SBIG STXL-11000 with Adaptive Optics Date:   2014 and 2023
11 Megapixel (4008 x 2672 16-bit sensor) Location:   Columbus, Texas
Exposure:   LSHO = 130(Ha):210:130:180 minutes
LRGB = 640:240:110:260 minutes
Imager:   Kent E. Biggs
The Eagle Nebula is also known as Messier 16 (M16), the Star Queen Nebula and NGC 6611. It is relatively very young Open Cluster of stars located in the direction of the constellation Serpens the serpent unique in that it is one of the 48 constellations listed by 2nd century Ptolemy and also that it has two separate parts in the sky that do not touch each other - Serpens Caput (serpent’s head) and Serpens Cauda (serpent’s tail).

Open star clusters refer to a group of tens to thousands of stars that form out of the same molecular cloud of gas and dust sometimes visible as a cloudy area around the stars called a nebula. The stars in open clusters are bound together by mutual gravitational force, and thousands of open clusters exist in our own Milky Way Galaxy. What is unique about this open star cluster is that we can still see its molecular cloud as well as indications of new stars being formed. This is a stellar nursery of sorts. Furthermore, it is probably one of the most famous nebulae and open clusters due to the fame brought by the Hubble Telescope in 1995 when upon imaging it identified that it was indeed creating new stars, hence its designation at the time “The Pillars of Creation”.

The above image has been color coded to show different chemical composition of the gasses within the nebula as these gasses are being energized by nearby stars. Blue represents doubly ionized oxygen (O-III), green is ionized hydrogen (Hɑ), and red-orange areas are ionized sulfur (S-II). In between colors have two or more of these gasses, for example yellow is both hydrogen and sulfur. Instead of a normal RGB (red, green, blue) image like below, each of these colors has been substituted with light collected through a narrowband filter.

There are also gas and dust nodules visible that are billions of miles across. Infrared views through Hubble and recently Webb show that at the center of about 10% of these nodules are stars visible only in infrared because the gas and dust blocks other light. These stars are forming out of the nodules, likely also to eventually form planets around them.

Do not be fooled by the relatively small size of the “eagle” wings. These “pillars” are 5 light years tall, or almost twice as far as the nearest star to earth beyond our sun. This is more than a 50,000 year journey in humankind’s fastest ship just to go length of one eagle wing!

The first image below is the same image as above but with stars removed. You will see the stars appearing and disappearing over about a 6-8 second interval. Removing stars from an image often allows more detail to be visible.

The second image below is a normal RGB image using broadband filters of red, green, and blue. It shows the same annotated overlay when hovering a mouse over as well as animated image showing stars fading. Note again that more information can be viewed without the distractions of many stars.

*Using a mouse, hover over the images above for annotations, insets, and enlargements. This hover feature may be unavailable on smart phones.
Animated narrow band image removing all stars

Normal broadband (RGB) image animated to remove all stars