First complete 3D view of iconic Pillars of Creation released
Mankind’s first encounter with the pillars happened in 1995, when the Hubble space telescope revealed the graceful gas protrusions, which are actually part of a region called the Eagle Nebula – a sort of star nursery, where violent births take place in clouds of gas. The radioactive stellar winds that are emitted when a birth takes place often disperse the gas around a new star, allowing for closer views.
But sometimes the clouds withstand these forces, obscuring the view. This happens in regions where the gas is more dense and full of stuff. Often, this battle of forces pushes the gas into peculiar shapes, such as the pillars.
An updated, higher-resolution view was provided in 2014, with the use of advanced new hardware. But this time, we’re getting a 3D rendition, which not only heightens the clarity but also allows scientists to more accurately place the finger-like clouds geographically in the nebula, as well as learn more about their distribution through the region.
The view was captured using the Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) instrument at the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT).
Like any cloud that answers to the laws of physics, we also know the pillars are slowly dissolving, losing mass ‘rapidly’ – about 70 Suns’ worth every million years. Seeing as science puts their total current mass at about 200 Suns, it looks like we have three million years more to observer the colorful shapes.
Getting there is of course a dream – the region is some 7,000 light years away. But we can study the beautiful formations from a distance. With a distance so vast, there’s no telling if the pillars are even there anymore – some scientists posit the theory they were engulfed in a supernova some 6,000 years ago. If true, we wouldn’t know for another thousand years.
The new findings are outlined in the new issue of the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.