I'd like to resolve this naming technicality by locating an official naming authority, if one exists.

As far as I can tell, "Pillars of Creation" was the name given to the photograph that Hubble took of NGC 6611 - M16 - The Eagle Nebula. And wasn't actually intending to give an official name to that particular star-forming/destroying part of the Eagle Nebula itself.

Wikipedia seems to capture the original use of the name well:

Pillars of Creation is a photograph taken by the Hubble Space Telescope of elephant trunks of interstellar gas and dust in the Eagle Nebula...

In calling the Hubble's spectacular new image of the Eagle Nebula the Pillars of Creation...

After earning huge cultural significance, that the name of the photograph seems to have become the ubiquitous name of that part of the nebula. e.g. nasa.gov:

the Pillars of Creation are a fascinating but relatively small feature of the entire Eagle Nebula...

Now, especially with JWST's new image of the feature, I'm starting to see more cases where "Pillars of Creation" is referring to the nebula, not the image of it, i.e. the subject of photograph, as opposed to the photograph itself.

There's no arguing that it's an overwhelmingly popular moniker for the astronomical object, but is this one of those "Frankenstein is the doctor, not the monster" kind of situations? Or is that part of the Eagle Nebula actually officially named as such somewhere?

I'm not sure where I would go to look for such an official name to resolve this issue - that's my real question.

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    $\begingroup$ There are no official names. That's not how language works. Names are "what people call things." $\endgroup$
    – James K
    Oct 21, 2022 at 16:29
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    $\begingroup$ This is kinda like the idea that the dictionary doesn't make new words to define, it only documents how existing words are used. But once it's written down, people will point to the dictionary to tell you you're using a word incorrectly. If we're not going to accept the "pillars of creation" as the name for that part of the nebula, how would such names ever come into existence? $\endgroup$ Oct 21, 2022 at 16:32
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    $\begingroup$ The comment "there are no official names" seems a little over-reaching. For example the IAU provides names for planets, satellites, constellations and much more. I agree that there is no ultimate authority on names, (you can't stop people from calling things what they do) but certainly there are dominant organizations (like IAU) defining names for a wide range of objects and their features aren't there? That's all I meant by "official". Perhaps you're saying nebulae and their features are not named by the IAU or any other big organization? $\endgroup$
    – Wyck
    Oct 21, 2022 at 16:53
  • $\begingroup$ The IAU help people coordinate what to call things, particularly solar system bodies. But they have no authority. Nebulae either have catalogue codes like "M16" or names in the same way that mountains or lakes have names. "Eagle nebula" isn't official but it is what that thing is called (in English) "Pillars of Creation" is similar. $\endgroup$
    – James K
    Oct 21, 2022 at 20:11
  • $\begingroup$ highly relevant to the comment train (but not the question): Why were two galaxies named "The Sagittarius Galaxy"? Is this common? $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Oct 23, 2022 at 2:53

1 Answer 1


It is now a well accepted and used names for the structures shown in the photograph of the same name.

A quick check of Google Scholar shows "Pillars of Creation" in the title of many published articles, primarily on new star formation.

See also IOPScience:

Okay so what exactly IS a pillar? And what's with this "creation" stuff?

While there is as yet no Wikipedia page for "astrophysical pillars" these are recognized structures supporting star formation in contexts outside of the Eagle Nebula.


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