This stunning cloud formation of dust and gas in a small region of the Eagle Nebula (or M16) is known as the Pillars of Creation.
First spotted by the Hubble Telescope in 1995, astronomers at Nasa have taken a new snapshot of the iconic view to celebrate the upcoming 20th anniversary of its discovery.
Nasa says that although "such butte-like features are common in star-forming regions, the M16 structures are by far the most photogenic and evocative".
The image shows "never-before-seen details of three giant columns of cold gas bathed in the scorching ultraviolet light from a cluster of young, massive stars".
This latest photograph of the pillars has been taken with near-infrared light - giving a much crisper image for astronomers to study and for the layman to admire.
The ghostly bluish haze around the dense edges of the pillars is material getting heated up and evaporating away into space. We have caught these pillars at a very unique and short-lived moment in their evolution.
The gaseous pillars are actually getting ionized, a process by which electrons are stripped off of atoms, and heated up by radiation from the massive stars. And then they are being eroded by the stars’ strong winds and barrage of charged particles, which are literally sandblasting away the tops of these pillars.
Paul Scowen, Arizona State University
Nebulous star-forming regions like M16 are cosmic signposts indicating that, as astronomer Paul Scowen puts it: "'We just made a bunch of massive stars here.'" This snapshot gives us a glimpse of what the conditions were like when our own sun was formed.
After comparing the original 1995 image and the more recent one, Scowen and his colleague Jeff Hester, noted the lengthening of a narrow "jet-like feature that may have been ejected from a newly forming star".
Situated 6,500 light-years away from Earth, the jet stream on the formation has stretched an extra 60 billion miles into space at a mind-boggling speed of 450,000 miles per hour.
For an in-depth explanation of how the Pillars of Creation were formed, visit the Nasa website