Pillars of Creation Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have assembled a bigger and sharper photograph of the iconic Eagle Nebula's "Pillars of Creation"
Photo by: Credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)/J. Hester, P. Scowen (Arizona State U.)

Pillars of Creation also Pillars of Destruction?

by / January 6, 2015

New images from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope hint that the Pillars of Creation, first photographed in 1995, are also Pillars of Destruction.

The pillars -- three giant columns of cold gas "bathed in the scorching ultraviolet light from a cluster of young, massive stars in a small region of the Eagle Nebula," according to NASA -- have been photographed again as part of Hubble's 25th anniversary in April, this time with a sharper and wider view, and in near-infrared light, shown below, and visible light, shown above.

Near-infrared view: Infrared light penetrates much of the gas and dust, except for the densest regions of the pillars. Photo courtesy of NASA, ESA/Hubble and the Hubble Heritage Team.

These new high-definition images give scientists more information about the pillars.

“I’m impressed by how transitory these structures are. They are actively being ablated away before our very eyes," said Paul Scowen of Arizona State University in Tempe in a press release. Scowen and astronomer Jeff Hester, formerly of Arizona State University, led the original Hubble observations of the Eagle Nebula.

The infrared image shows that 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, according to NASA.

“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 and barrage of charged particles, which are literally sandblasting away the tops of these pillars.”