Eagle Nebula

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This article is about the nebula in the constellation Serpens. For an object in Canis Major, also called Eagle Nebula, see IC 2177. For the astrophotograph, see Pillars of Creation.
Eagle Nebula
emission nebula
H II region
Eagle Nebula 4xHubble WikiSky.jpg
Overview of some famous sights in the Eagle Nebula
Observation data: J2000.0 epoch
Right ascension 18h 18m 48s[1]
Declination −13° 49′[1]
Distance 7,000 ly
Apparent magnitude (V) +6.0[1]
Apparent dimensions (V) 7.0 arcmins
Constellation Serpens
Physical characteristics
Radius 70×55 ly (cluster 15 ly) ly
Absolute magnitude (V) -8.21
Notable features 5.5 million years old
Designations Messier 16, NGC 6611,[1] Sharpless 49, RCW 165, Gum 83, Star Queen Nebula
See also: Lists of nebulae

The Eagle Nebula (catalogued as Messier 16 or M16, and as NGC 6611, and also known as the Star Queen Nebula and The Spire) is a young open cluster of stars in the constellation Serpens, discovered by Jean-Philippe de Cheseaux in 1745-46. Its name derives from its shape that is thought to resemble an eagle. It contains several active star-forming gas and dust regions, including the famous "Pillars of Creation", photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope.


The Eagle Nebula is part of a diffuse emission nebula, or H II region, which is catalogued as IC 4703. This region of active current star formation is about 7000 light-years distant. The tower of gas that can be seen coming off the nebula is approximately 9.5 light-years or about 90 trillion kilometers long.[2]

The brightest star in the nebula (HD 168076) has an apparent magnitude of +8.24, easily visible with good binoculars. It is actually a binary star formed of an O3.5V star plus an O7.5V companion.[3]

The cluster associated with the nebula has approximately 460 stars, the brightest of spectral class O, a mass of roughly 80 solar masses, and a luminosity up to 1 million times that of the Sun. Its age has been estimated to be 1–2 million years.[4]

The descriptive names reflect impressions of the shape of the central pillar rising from the southeast into the central luminous area. The name "Star Queen Nebula" was introduced by Robert Burnham, Jr., reflecting his characterization of the central pillar as the Star Queen shown in silhouette.[5]

"Pillars of Creation" region[edit]

Main article: Pillars of Creation
A higher-resolution HST image of the Pillars of Creation taken 20 years after the original.

Images taken by Jeff Hester and Paul Scowen using the Hubble Space Telescope in 1995 greatly improved scientific understanding of processes inside the nebula. One of these photographs became famous as the "Pillars of Creation", depicting a large region of star formation. The small dark areas in the photograph are believed to be protostars. The pillar structure of the region resembles that of a much larger star formation region in the Soul Nebula of Cassiopeia, imaged with the Spitzer Space Telescope in 2005[6] and characterized as "Pillars of Star Creation".[7] or "Pillars of Star Formation".[8] These columns – which resemble stalagmites protruding from the floor of a cavern – are composed of interstellar hydrogen gas and dust, which act as incubators for new stars. Inside the columns and on their surface astronomers have found knots or globules of denser gas, called EGGs ("Evaporating Gaseous Globules"). Stars are being formed inside some of these EGGs.

X-ray images from the Chandra observatory compared with Hubble's "Pillars" image have shown that X-ray sources (from young stars) do not coincide with the pillars, but instead randomly dot the area.[9] Any protostars in the pillars' EGGs are not yet hot enough to emit X-rays.[citation needed]

Evidence from the Spitzer Telescope suggests that the pillars in M16 may already have been destroyed by a supernova explosion. Hot gas observed by Spitzer in 2007 suggests that the area was disturbed by a supernova that exploded some 8000 to 9000 years ago. Due to the distance of the nebula, the light from the supernova would have reached Earth between 1000 and 2000 years ago. The more slowly moving shock wave from the supernova would have taken a few thousand years to move through the nebula, and would blow away the delicate pillars – but the light showing us the destruction will not reach the Earth for another millennium.[10]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "SIMBAD Astronomical Database". Results for NGC 6611. Retrieved 2006-11-16. 
  2. ^ The Eagle has risen: Stellar spire in the Eagle Nebula - European Space Agency
  3. ^ The massive star binary fraction in young open clusters – II. NGC6611 (Eagle Nebula)
  4. ^ NGC 6611: A cluster caught in the act
  5. ^ Robert Burnham, Jr., Burnham's Celestial Handbook, Volume 3, p 1783–1788.
  6. ^ "Spitzer Captures Cosmic "Mountains Of Creation"". Spacedaily.com. Retrieved 2012-04-01. 
  7. ^ APOD, 16 Sep 2008.
  8. ^ APOD, 20 Nov 2011.
  9. ^ "Chandra, Photo Album, The Eagle Nebula (M16), 15 Feb 07". Chandra.harvard.edu. Retrieved 2012-04-01. 
  10. ^ Famous Space Pillars Feel the Heat of Star's Explosion – Jet Propulsion Laboratory

External links[edit]

Coordinates: Sky map 18h 18m 48s, −13° 49′ 00″