The Pillars of Creation seen in 3D

The instrument mounted on VLT made the first full three-dimensional view of the Eagle Nebula, Messier 16. Revealed many new details, including a jet never seen before from a young star.
Using the instrument MUSE ESO, mounted on the VLT (Very Large Telescope), astronomers have produced the first full three-dimensional view of the famous Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula, Messier 16. The new observations show that the different pillars of this powder famous object are distributed in space and reveal many new details – including a jet never seen before from a young star. The intense radiation and stellar winds of the brighter stars have carved over time the Pillars of Creation and should make them evaporate in the next three million years.

pilastri-3d-664x452Credit: ESO

The original image of the Pillars of Creation was taken 20 years ago from the orbiting Hubble telescope of NASA / ESA and immediately became one of the most famous and evocative images. Since then these billowing clouds that extend for some light years, have amazed scientists and the public. The left pillar, considered a complete object from top to bottom, it seems to have a length of about four light years. It is the longest, about twice that right.
The protruding structures, together with the clutter near NGC 6611, belong to the star-forming region M16. The nebula and associated objects are located about 7000 light-years away in the constellation Serpens. The Pillars of Creation are a classic example of column forms which develop in giant clouds of gas and dust that constitute the birthplace of new stars. The columns are formed when stars of type O or B, immense, just formed, producing large amounts of intense ultraviolet radiation and stellar winds that blow off the less dense material from the vicinity.


Credit: ESO

The most dense gas and dust areas, on the other hand, resist longer to erosion. Besides these pockets of dust thicker the material is shielded from harsh and intense glow of the stars O and B. This screen creates “code” dark or “trunks”, we see how the body of a dark pillar, pointing in the opposite direction the shining star. MUSE has now helped to clarify the evaporation taking place in Pillars of Creation with unprecedented detail, revealing their orientation. The tool has shown that the tip of the column to the left is turned toward us, on top of a pillar that is actually behind NGC 6611, unlike the other. This tip shows the signs of the impact of the radiation of the stars of NGC 6611, and therefore it seems brighter to our eyes of those in the bottom left, in the middle and on the right, whose tips are all facing in the opposite direction to our direction of view.

Astronomers hope to better understand how the young stars of type O and B, such as those in NGC 6611, influence the formation of the next generation of stars. Numerous studies have identified protostars that are formed in these clouds – are just Pillars of Creation. The study also shows new clues on two stars in the making in the left pillar and one in the middle, as well as a jet from a young star that so far had escaped the attention.

The three-dimensional view of the Pillars of Creation from MUSECredit: ESO

Because many other stars are formed in environments such as the Pillars of Creation have to win the race against time with the intense radiation from the stars vigorous that continues to shave away the pillars.
By measuring the rate of evaporation of the Pillars of Creation, MUSE has given astronomers a period including the pillars disappear. Lose about 70 times the mass of the Sun every million years or so. Based on the current mass of about 200 times that of the Sun, the Pillars of Creation have a life expectancy of about three million years – a blink of an eye on a cosmic scale. A better name for these columns cosmic might therefore be the pillars of Destruction.

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