November 3, 1995
Web posted at: 1 a.m. EST
From Correspondent John Holliman
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Hubble space telescope has returned a breathtaking series of photos showing the formation of stars in a distant constellation. (192K QuickTime movie)
The photos show the birthplace of a group of stars from the Eagle nebula, which is 7,000 light years from Earth in the constellation Serpens.
Astronomer Jeff Hester is fascinated by the photos. "Not only are we studying star formation in our own galaxy, but really, what we are studying is what must have happened in our own neighborhood 4.6 billion years ago," he says.
The pictures may answer questions asked for hundreds of years about how are stars are formed and why some are larger than others.
"These stars are starting to contract, but they're doing so while being blasted by the powerful radiation field, the powerful light of other stars that is shaping them," says astronomer Bruce Margon.
An example to demonstrate the scale of the solar birthplace: Earth and its solar system would fit on the end of one of the tiny fingertips in the Hubble pictures.
The columns of cold hydrogen gas and dust are extremely dense. They're beginning to evaporate under the intense heat from nearby stars.
"This process of evaporating the cloud is actually limiting the masses of the stars," Hester says.
Astronomers say they can see evaporating gaseous globules, or EGGs, inside the pillars. It's a convenient name, since the new stars emerge from the "eggs."
The light which allowed the Hubble telescope to take the picture came from a series of stars, which were screened out to allow the telescope to photograph the cosmic landscape.
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