Pillars of Creation

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This article is about the astrophotograph. For the fantasy novel by Terry Goodkind, see The Pillars of Creation.
The "Pillars of Creation" in the Eagle Nebula.
This video clip shows a visualisation of the three-dimensional structure of the Pillars of Creation.

"Pillars of Creation" is a photograph taken by the Hubble Space Telescope of elephant trunks of interstellar gas and dust in the Eagle Nebula, some 7,000 light years from Earth.[1] They are so named because the gas and dust are in the process of creating new stars, while also being eroded by the light from nearby stars that have recently formed.[2] Taken on April 1, 1995, it was named one of the top ten photographs from Hubble by Space.com.[3] The astronomers responsible for the photo were Jeff Hester and Paul Scowen from Arizona State University. In 2011, the region was revisited by ESA's Herschel Space Observatory.


The pillars are composed of cool molecular hydrogen and dust that are being eroded by photoevaporation from the ultraviolet light of relatively close and hot stars. The leftmost pillar is about four light years in length.[4] The finger-like protrusions at the top of the clouds are larger than our solar system, and are made visible by the shadows of evaporating gaseous globules (EGGs), which shields the gas behind them from intense UV flux.[5] EGGs are themselves incubators of new stars.[6]

Theorized destruction[edit]

Images taken with the Spitzer Space Telescope uncovered a cloud of hot dust in the vicinity of the Pillars of Creation that Nicolas Flagey accounted to be a shock wave produced by a supernova.[7] The appearance of the cloud suggests the supernova would have erupted 6000 years ago. Given the distance of roughly 7000 light years to the Pillars of Creation, this would mean that they have actually already been destroyed, but because light travels at a finite speed, this destruction should be visible on Earth in about 1000 years.[8] However, this interpretation of the hot dust has been disputed by an astronomer uninvolved in the Spitzer observations, who argues that a supernova should have resulted in stronger radio and x-ray radiation than has been observed, and that winds from massive stars could instead have heated the dust. If this is the case, the Pillars of Creation will undergo a more gradual erosion.[9]


Hubble's photo[edit]

Hubble's photo of the pillars is composed of 32 different images[10] from four separate cameras[11] in the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 on board Hubble.[12] The photograph was made with light emitted by different elements in the cloud and appears as a different color in the composite image: green for hydrogen, red for singly ionized sulfur and blue for double-ionized oxygen atoms.[2]

The "stair-shaped"[11] missing part of the picture at the top right corner originates from the fact that the camera for the top-right quadrant has a magnified view; when its images are scaled down to match the other three cameras, there is necessarily a gap in the rest of that quadrant.[11] This effect is also present on other four-camera Hubble pictures, and can be displayed at any corner depending on how the image has been re-oriented for publication.[13]

Herschel's photo[edit]

In 2011 Herschel Space Observatory captured a new image of Pillars of Creation in far-infrared wavelengths, which allows astronomers to look inside the pillars and structures in the region, and come to a much fuller understanding of the creative and destructive forces inside the Eagle Nebula.[14]

Hubble revisit[edit]

In celebration of the 25th anniversary since the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers assembled a larger and higher-resolution photograph of the Pillars of Creation which was unveiled in January 2015 at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle. The image was photographed by the Hubble Telescope's Wide Field Camera 3, installed in 2009, and produced using near-infrared and visible light exposure.[15]

A higher-resolution HST image of the Pillars of Creation, taken in 2014 as a tribute to the original photograph


  1. ^ Clavin, Whitney. "'Elephant Trunks' in Space". Retrieved March 9, 2011. 
  2. ^ a b Embryonic Stars Emerge from Interstellar "Eggs", Hubble news release
  3. ^ Best Hubble Space telescope images from Space.com. [archived copy]
  4. ^ "NOVA | Origins | The Pillars of Creation image 1". PBS. Retrieved 2012-02-13. 
  5. ^ "The Birth of Stars". Csep10.phys.utk.edu. Retrieved 2012-02-13. 
  6. ^ "A Stunning View Inside an Incubator for Stars - New York Times". Nytimes.com. 1995-11-03. Retrieved 2012-02-13. 
  7. ^ FLAGEY, Nicolas, et al. "The Eagle Nebula unveiled by the MIPSGAL survey." The Evolving ISM in the Milky Way and Nearby Galaxies. Vol. 1. 2009.
  8. ^ Lovett, Richard. "Photo in the News: Supernova Destroys "Pillars of Creation"". Retrieved March 13, 2011. 
  9. ^ Shiga, David (January 10, 2007). "'Pillars of creation' destroyed by supernova". Retrieved May 4, 2012. 
  10. ^ "NOVA | Origins | The Pillars of Creation image 3". PBS. Retrieved 2012-02-13. 
  11. ^ a b c "NOVA | Origins | The Pillars of Creation image 2". PBS. Retrieved 2012-02-13. 
  12. ^ "NOVA | Origins | The Pillars of Creation image 1". PBS. 1995-04-01. Retrieved 2012-02-13. 
  13. ^ for example, this image of Seyfert's Sextet has the effect at bottom-left corner
  14. ^ "Revisiting the 'Pillars of Creation'". NASA. 2012-01-18. Retrieved 2012-01-20. 
  15. ^ "Hubble Goes High-Definition to Revisit Iconic 'Pillars of Creation'". NASA. 2015-01-05. Retrieved 2015-01-06.