Famous "star cradle" might have been destroyed long before we ever discovered it

This is one of the most-famous astronomy photos in the world. Called "The Pillars of Creation" it was taken by the Hubble telescope in 1995 and shows massive columns of hydrogen gas and dust in the Eagle Nebula—7,000 light years from Earth. Part of why these are a big deal is that columns of dust and gas like this are places where stars form.

But here's a cool and/or disappointing detail I hadn't known about until today. Back in 2007, researchers took more images of this region of space using the Spitzer Space Telescope. These shots suggest that the Pillars of Creation might actually be long gone—destroyed thousands of years ago by a nearby supernova.

A striking image from Spitzer shows the intact dust towers next to a giant cloud of hot dust thought to have been scorched by the blast of a star that exploded, or went supernova. Astronomers speculate that the supernova's shock wave could have already reached the dusty towers, causing them to topple about 6,000 years ago.

However, because light from this region takes 7,000 years to reach Earth, we won't be able to capture photos of the destruction for another millenium or so.

Space is crazy, y'all.

Read the rest at The Daily Galaxy


  1. I thought they are called ‘Star Nurseries’ – which seems a more visceral and expressive. 
    That’s all.  ; )

  2. Every time I look through a telescope, or even see a picture of some distant object like “The Pillars of Creation” I remember that I’m not seeing it as it is now, but rather as it was long ago. I am literally looking into the past–and that’s not one of those misuses of the word “literally” that would get me slapped in English class. 

    And every time I have to stop and steady myself because I never get over how fantastic it is.

  3. I find the sentiment that we’re viewing things as they were X,000 years ago to be frustrating. Except for certain cases where astronomers are specifically looking to observe conditions from a time very different from ours, I don’t see how it matters.

    Since we cannot break the speed of light, I find it much preferable to consider that events are happening as their photons reach us. It’s literally impossible to observe them at a later state, so don’t let it get you down. If anything, we have the ability to watch the past (or at least certain pasts) unfold in real time, and that’s pretty cool.

    1. Right. It’s not even particularly meaningful to talk about “now” for for events outside our causality cones (the regions of spacetime that have affected us and we will affect from here and now).

  4. They are not really columns and they can not topple. That is all I wanted to say.
    -Mister Obvious 

  5. Well d’uh! 6000 years ago! Pillars of creation, people! Does nobody read Genesis? More accurate readings will prove they were toppled in October 4004 BC, and cherubim and a flaming sword were definitely involved. 

    And 7000 light years away? See 2 Peter 3:8. 7 days creation = 7000 years, minus the 6000 years specified leaves the seventh day where God rested. Cf book of Enoch and 7000 years of world history, pillars of the temple of heaven in Revelation 3:12… this stuff pretty much writes itself. ;)

  6. This just means that in about a thousand years, astronomers are in for a hell of a show.

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