Pillars of Creation (2014), as seen in visible light

Photo: NASA, ESA/Hubble and the Hubble Heritage Team

Since the dawn of 20th century spaceflight, there have been many iconic photographs that have captivated the imaginations of people all around the world. Whether it's Apollo 8's "Earthrise," Hubble's "Ultra Deep Field," or Voyager 1's "Pale Blue Dot," sweeping photographs of the cosmos have a way of enhancing our perspective.

Another one of these perspective-changing images is Hubble Space Telescope's 1995 "Pillars of Creation," a visible light photograph that depicts the magnificent elephant-like trunks of the Eagle Nebula. Located about 7,000 light-years from Earth, this young open cluster of stars named for its resemblance to an eagle (be sure to check out the wider angle overview of the nebula for a better visual understanding).

Visible light comparison between 1995 and 2014 versions of 'Pillars of Creation'

Although the 1995 image continues to dazzle our imaginations, after 20 years, astronomers thought it was high time to revisit.

Unveiled during a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle, the 2014 version of "Pillars of Creation" was shot and assembled to celebrate this special anniversary.

When comparing the two versions side by side (see right), it's truly amazing to think about how far optical technology has advanced over the years. The increased resolution and detail is all thanks to the bevy of optical upgrades that Hubble received over the past decades, including a new high-definition camera installed in 2009.

Although the title "Pillars of Creation" certainly sounds poetic and appropriate, NASA says that detail in the new image suggests that it isn't as peaceful and heavenly as it looks:

"This new image hints that they are also pillars of destruction. The dust and gas in these pillars is seared by intense radiation from the young stars forming within them, and eroded by strong winds from massive nearby stars. The ghostly bluish haze around the dense edges of the pillars in the visible-light view is material that is being heated by bright young stars and evaporating away."

In addition to the gorgeous updated visible light image, Hubble also captured an infrared view, which can be seen below:

Pillars of Creation (2014), as seen in infrared

Photo: NASA, ESA/Hubble and the Hubble Heritage Team

With this unprecedented infrared visual of the Eagle Nebula, we can see past the thick layers of gas and dust that would otherwise obscure this undeniably ethereal view.

In the official release on SpaceTelescope.org — the official NASA/ESA website for the Hubble Space Telescope — we learn more about what we're looking at:

"The entire frame is peppered with bright stars and baby stars are revealed being formed within the pillars themselves. The ghostly outlines of the pillars seem much more delicate, and are silhouetted against an eerie blue haze."
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Catie Leary is a photo editor at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.

Catie Leary ( @catieleary ) writes about science, travel, animals and the arts.

Hubble's iconic 'Pillars of Creation' photograph revisited 20 years later
The 2014 version of "Pillars of Creation" was assembled to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the original image, captured in 1995.