The astonishing old image of the “Pillars of Creation” back in 1995 was iconic, as three giant columns of cold gas amidst the ultraviolet light from a collection of young, massive stars were photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope. These famous pillars located in the Eagle Nebula, have since been popularized in a number of shows, movies and postage stamps.
Just recently in 2014, Hubble revisited the Pillars of Creation and has made astronomers squeal with glee, as the images have become sharper and wider in view. And not only that, the pillars have been captured in near-infrared light, which make the pillars look like spooky and wispy silhouettes against a background of gleaming stars. The infrared image also shows knots of dust and gas at the edges of the pillars, while the material found between them are gradually evaporating away by the ionizing radiation from the central star cluster. In fact, astronomers have said that this evaporation process could hint that these pillars are also pillars of destruction.
According to astronomer Paul Scowen of the Arizona State University in Tempe, “I’m impressed by how transitory these structures are. They are actively being ablated away before our very eyes.” He also added that the bluish haze around the pillars’ edges is due to the material actively getting heated up and evaporating away into space.
“These pillars represent a very dynamic, active process,” Scowen said. “The gaseous pillars are actually getting ionized, a process by which electrons are stripped off of atoms, and heated up by radiation from the massive stars. And then they are being eroded by the stars’ strong winds and barrage of charged particles, which are literally sandblasting away the tops of these pillars.”