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The ‘Pillars of Creation’ in unprecedented detail in new NASA image

The Pillars of Creation are the stars of one the most iconic images ever to be captured by the Hubble Space Telescope.

Now, NASA has revealed a new image, created by combining X-ray data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and Hubble Space Telescope optical data.

Is shows the region around the Pillars, which are about 5,700 light years from Earth, in incredible detail.

 

The new image combines X-ray data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and Hubble Space Telescope optical data and shows the region around the Pillars in incredible detail

HOW WAS THE ‘NEW’ PILLARS OF CREATION IMAGE CREATED? 

The new image was created by combining X-ray data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and Hubble Space Telescope optical data. 

The optical image, taken with filters to emphasize the interstellar gas and dust, shows dusty brown nebula immersed in a blue-green haze, and a few stars that appear as pink dots in the image. 

The Chandra data reveal X-rays from hot outer atmospheres from stars. 

In this image, low, medium, and high-energy X-rays detected by Chandra have been colored red, green, and blue. 

The area, the Eagle Nebula, also known as Messier 16, and contains the young star cluster NGC 6611. 

It also the site of the spectacular star-forming region known as the Pillars of Creation, which is located in the southern portion of the Eagle Nebula.

This new composite image shows the region around the Pillars, which are about 5,700 light years from Earth.  

Using Chandra, researchers detected over 1,700 individual sources of X-rays in the Eagle Nebula.

Optical and infrared identifications with stars were used to clean up the image, which found more than two-thirds of the sources are probably young stars that are members of the NGC 6611 cluster.

Chandra’s unique ability to resolve and locate X-ray sources made it possible to identify hundreds of very young stars, and those still in the process of forming, known as ‘protostars’. 

The infrared observations from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and the European Southern Observatory found that 219 of the X-ray sources in the Eagle Nebula are young stars surrounded by disks of dust and gas and 964 are young stars without these disks.

The Chandra data reveal X-rays from young stars, where low, medium, and high-energy X-rays have been colored red, green, and blue.

The full X-ray field of view of the study

Left: The Chandra data reveal X-rays from young stars, where low, medium, and high-energy X-rays have been colored red, green, and blue. Right, The full X-ray field of view of the study

Combined with the Chandra observations, the data show that X-ray activity in young stars with disks is, on average, a few times less intense that in young stars without disks. 

This behavior is likely due to the interaction of the disk with the magnetic field of the host star. 

Much of the matter in the disks around these protostars will eventually be blown away by radiation from their host stars, but, in certain cases, some of it may form into planets.

In the image, some of the X-ray sources appear to be located in the Pillars.

WHAT ARE THE PILLARS OF CREATION? 

The original Hubble Space Telescope image of the famous Pillars of Creation was taken two decades ago and immediately became one of its most famous and evocative pictures.

The jutting structures, along with the nearby star cluster, NGC 6611, are parts of a star formation region called the Eagle Nebula, also known as Messier 16 or M16. 

The nebula and its associated objects are located about 7000 light-years away in the constellation of Serpens (The Serpent).

The Pillars of Creation are a classic example of the column-like shapes that develop in the giant clouds of gas and dust that are the birthplaces of new stars. 

The original NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image of the famous Pillars of Creation was taken two decades ago

The original NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image of the famous Pillars of Creation was taken two decades ago

The columns arise when immense, freshly formed blue–white O and B stars give off intense ultraviolet radiation and stellar winds that blow away less dense materials from their vicinity.

Denser pockets of gas and dust, however, can resist this erosion for longer. 

Behind such thicker dust pockets, material is shielded from the harsh, withering glare of O and B stars. 

This shielding creates dark ‘tails’ or ‘elephant trunks’, which we see as the dusky body of a pillar, that point away from the brilliant stars.

 

However, an analysis of the absorption of X-rays from these sources indicates that almost all of these sources belong to the larger Eagle Nebula rather than being immersed in the Pillars.

Three X-ray sources appear to lie near the tip of the largest Pillar. 

Infrared observations show a protostar containing four or five times the mass of the Sun is located near one of these sources – the blue one near the tip of the Pillar. 

This source exhibits strong absorption of low-energy X-rays, consistent with a location inside the Pillar. 

Similar arguments show that one of these sources is associated with a disk-less star outside the Pillar, and one is a foreground object. 

Now, astronomers have produced the first complete three-dimensional view of these beautiful columns of interstellar gas and dust.

The image, together with data collected by Nasa, suggests these structures only have three million years left before they fade away – a relatively short time in cosmic terms.

The new observations, taken by the European Space Agency, reveal many new details — including a previously unseen jet from a young star.

This view shows how the MUSE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope has created a three-dimensional view of the iconic Pillars of Creation in the star-forming region Messier 16. Each pixel in the data corresponds to a spectrum. The ‘slices’ of data correspond to some of the different chemical elements present.

Located in the Eagle Nebula, Messier 16, researchers used the Muse instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) create the 3D view.

The new study reports fresh evidence for two gestating stars in the left and middle pillars as well as a jet from a young star that had escaped attention up to now.

For more stars to form in environments like the Pillars of Creation, it is a race against time as intense radiation from the powerful stars that are already shining continues to grind away at the pillars.

By measuring the Pillars of Creation’s rate of evaporation, Muse has given astronomers a time frame for when the pillars will be no more.

They shed about 70 times the mass of the sun every million years or so. 

Based on the their present mass of about 200 times that of the sun, the Pillars of Creation have an expected lifetime of perhaps three million more years.

Some scientists have put forward the theory that the Pillars of Creation were already killed by a neighboring supernova some 6,000 years ago. 

If this is the case, astronomers on Earth won’t know for another 1,000 years, when the light from the descruction reaches our planet.

‘The original Nasa/Esa Hubble Space Telescope image of the famous Pillars of Creation was taken two decades ago and immediately became one of its most famous and evocative pictures,’ said Esa.’

‘Since then, these billowing clouds, which extend over a few light-years, have awed scientists and the public alike.’ 

ESO’s Muse instrument on the Very Large Telescope has now helped illustrate the ongoing evaporation of the Pillars of Creation in unprecedented detail, revealing their orientation.

MUSE has shown that the tip of the left pillar is facing us, atop a pillar that is is actually situated behind NGC 6611, unlike the other pillars. 

This tip is bearing the brunt of the radiation from NGC 6611’s stars, and as a result looks brighter to our eyes than the bottom left, middle and right pillars, whose tips are all pointed away from our view.

Astronomers hope to better understand how young O and B stars like those in NGC 6611 influence the formation of subsequent stars.

A colour composite of the Eagle Nebula (M 16), where the pillars of creation are located. The nebula and its associated objects are located about 7000 light-years away in the constellation of Serpens (The Serpent)

A colour composite of the Eagle Nebula (M 16), where the pillars of creation are located. The nebula and its associated objects are located about 7000 light-years away in the constellation of Serpens (The Serpent)



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