A Mind-Boggling Galactic Marvel

The Pillars of Creation — 1995 and 2015 comparison

It’s been nearly quarter of a century since the launch of Hubble Space telescope (built by NASA, with contributions from European Space Agency). It was launched into low Earth orbit and orbiting at the speed at 7.5 km/s. Hubble has taken some extremely high-resolution images and had made many observations that have led to significant breakthroughs in astrophysics. One of the topmost images taken by Hubble that opened the public’s eyes to the unimaginable wonders of space is the “Pillars of Creation”.

Although the name sounds like that of an unremarkable 3D Hollywood sci-fi, the ‘Pillars of Creation’ is in fact a cosmic structure, which works (or worked) as a star-making factory. Hubble took the photograph of ‘Pillars’ on April 1, 1995. The Pillars, which are as much as four light-years in length is situated in the Eagle Nebula, located some 6,500-7,000 light-years away. Paul Scowen and Jeff Hester of Arizona University were responsible for taking the photograph. The name was earned because of the way these massive pillar structures of hydrogen gas and dust, continually creates new stars.


Later, NASA’s Spitzer space telescope shot a new picture of Eagle Nebula (in 2007). The image showed the entire region’s network of newborn stars and disruptive clouds in infra-red light. Although the dust pillars remained intact, the color red in the picture represented the hotter dust thought to have been scorched by the blast of a massive star (known as Supernova) about 8,000light-years ago. Astronomers have speculated that the shock wave of that supernova has knocked down that pillar some 6,000 years ago. So, the mind-boggling thing is that the pillar doesn’t exist right now.

Since the Eagle Nebula is located some 7,000 light years away, the great pillars will look intact to our eyes for may be another 1,000 years. The picture itself is a window that looks back in time before those destructive waves ever reached those pillars. The ‘Pillars’ is one of many examples that shows how we are limited by time. It shows how we can’t perceive these stellar images like that of our planet’s mountain or sea (everything we see in the space is in the past: seconds, minutes to millennia away). Thousand years from now, with more advanced telescope, humans can view the unstoppable, destroying supernova gradually destroying the ‘Pillars’.

Recently, to celebrate its 25th anniversary, the Hubble has returned to the same site (with upgraded optics) and has clicked incredible photographs of the ‘Pillars’. Looking at these incredible space images, one can be washed over by the feeling of awe and humility, and makes us cherish our existence.


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