Discovered in 1745-1746 by Jean-Philippe de Cheseaux, the Eagle Nebula [M16; NGC 6611] is some 7,000 lightyears away in the constellation Serpens. It is part of a much larger diffuse emission nebula, or H II region. (H II regions are large, low density, interstellar clouds of gas which have been ionized by recent star formation.) The H II region of which the Eagle Nebula is part has been catalogued as IC 4703.

Associated with the Eagle Nebula is an open cluster of roughly 460 young stars. Of these, the brightest is of spectral class O. With an approximate mass of 80 solar masses, it is roughly one million times brighter than the Sun. The age of this star is estimated to be 1 to 2 million years.

Projecting off the central region of the Eagle Nebula is the towering column of gas featured in this photo. Nicknamed Star Queen Nebula, this formation is being sculpted and shaped by the fierce solar winds of nearby stars. Within the denser parts of this pillar, new stars may also be forming. The entire structure is 9.5 lightyears from end to end, or roughly 90 trillion kilometers in length; twice the distance between our Sun and the nearest star.

This image was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in November 2004.

Eagle Nebula-Star Queen Nebula

Photo credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team STScI/AURA