Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Revisiting the Eagle Nebula

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has taken new images of the famous Eagle Nebula and its so-called 'Pillars of Creation'.  From their press release:

Although the original image was dubbed the Pillars of Creation, the new image hints that they are also pillars of destruction. "I'm impressed by how transitory these structures are. They are actively being ablated away before our very eyes. 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," explained Paul Scowen of Arizona State University in Tempe, who, with astronomer Jeff Hester, formerly of Arizona State University, led the original Hubble observations of the Eagle Nebula.

M16 Eagle Nebula, 'Pillars of Creation', visible light

The infrared image shows that the reason the pillars exist is because the very ends of them are dense, and they shadow the gas below them, creating the long, pillar-like structures. The gas in between the pillars has long since been blown away by the ionizing winds from the central star cluster located above the pillars.

M16 Eagle Nebula, 'Pillars of Creation', infrared light

At the top edge of the left-hand pillar, a gaseous fragment has been heated up and is flying away from the structure, underscoring the violent nature of star-forming regions. "These pillars represent a very dynamic, active process," Scowen said. "The gas is not being passively heated up and gently wafting away into space. 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 (barrage of charged particles), which are sandblasting away the tops of these pillars."

There's more at the link.  The full-size images are breathtaking - click on the images above to access them, and see all of the other images here.

Kinda puts us in our place, doesn't it, to think of that immensity of creation and destruction going on way out there, 7,000 light years distant, neither knowing nor caring about us?  The light reaching us from there today started its journey before humans had learned to properly read and write . . .


1 comment:

Graybeard said...

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.

I always thought was better with the second two lines.