A new view of the Pillars of Creation gives further clues to its gassy demise

A new view of the Pillars of Creation gives further clues to its gassy demise

2020-04-14 12:08:46

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has revisited one of its most iconic and popular images: the Eagle Nebula’s Pillars of Creation. (NASA, ESA/Hubble and the Hubble Heritage Team/)

If you went to a planetarium as a kid, have some vestige interest in the stars, or have once Googled “iconic space pics,” I’d confidently bet five dollars you’ve laid eyes on the Pillars of Creation. The structure lies roughly 5,700 light-years away in the Eagle Nebula and features immense, thick tendrils of illuminated gas and dust. Back here on Earth, an image of this beastly beauty is perhaps the most famous shots ever snapped by the Hubble Space Telescope in its almost 30 years of operation.

NASA released the classic photograph back in 1995, which captured the 5-light-year-tall structure in visible light. All of that energy-packed gas makes the area an active star-forming region—a stellar nursery, hence its name. Now, NASA just revealed a new view of the Pillars of Creation. By using infrared light to craft the image instead of visible light, scientists identified baby stars that were hidden behind the gaseous, spectral columns.

Though newborn stars sound pretty cute and harmless, this squad of stellar babies will one day erase the Pillars of Creation from our skies. As Paul Scowen, a Hubble astronomer from Arizona State University said in a 2015 NASA press release, “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.”

But for now, at least, the Eagle Nebula’s pillars are still visible in our skies. On a clear night in July, you might be able to spot the twinkling stellar nursery with a standard telescope. But you’ll need something a bit more high-powered to spot those ephemeral pillars while they last.

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