Embedded star formation in the Eagle Nebula

Rodger I. Thompson, Bradford A. Smith, J. Jeff Hester

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


M16 (=NGC 6611), the Eagle Nebula, is a well-studied region of star formation and the source of a widely recognized Hubble Space Telescope (HST) image. High spatial resolution infrared observations with the Near-Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS) on HST reveal the detailed morphology of two embedded star formation regions that are heavily obscured at optical wavelengths. It is striking that only limited portions of the visually obscured areas are opaque at 2.2 μm. Although the optical images imply substantial columns of material, the infrared images show only isolated clumps of dense gas and dust. Rather than being an active factory of star production, only a few regions are capable of sustaining current star formation. Most of the volume in the columns may be molecular gas and dust, protected by capstones of dense dust. Two active regions of star formation are located at the tips of the optical northern and central large "elephant trunk" features shown in the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) images. They are embedded in two capstones of infrared opaque material that contains and trails behind the sources. Although the presence of these sources was evident in previous observations at the same and longer wavelengths, the NICMOS images provide a high-resolution picture of their morphology. Two bright stars appear at the tip of the southern column and may be the result of recent star formation at the top of that column. These observations suggest that the epoch of star formation in M16 may be near its endpoint.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)749-757
Number of pages9
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2 I
StatePublished - May 10 2002


  • H II regions
  • ISM: individual (M16)
  • Stars: formation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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