Behold, the 'pillars of destruction'

You may have seen the famous “Pillars of Creation” image from the Eagle Nebula, a breathtaking, iconic shot taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1995 showing structures of dust and gas that look like cosmic columns.

Now, scientists have revealed images that they’ve dubbed with a darker name: the “Pillars of Destruction.” The photographs reveal stunning formations, also of gas and dust, in a region of the Carina Nebula, about 7,500 light years from Earth.

So what’s so destructive about them? Well, it’s more that the nearby stars are destructive, emitting ionizing radiation that causes the pillars to lose mass, according to the European Southern Observatory, which conducted the research using their Very Large Telescope in Chile.

Anna Faye McLeod is the lead author on a new paper on the topic published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.


“What is so fascinating about these images is that they might not be as sharp as those obtained with Hubble, but each single pixel in the image also comes with a spectrum across pretty much the entire visible wavelength range,” McLeod told in an email, “making this an extremely rich dataset!

The researchers didn’t just analyze the images from the Carina Nebula— they looked at 10 pillars in total for their research, from spots like the Eagle Nebula and a nebula called NGC 3603.

Ultimately, the researchers paint a portrait of creation and destruction, with the stars destroying the pillars of gas and dust from which they came.

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