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'Pillars of creation' destroyed by supernova!


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The famous "pillars of creation" – clouds of dust and gas imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope, are no more – a supernova blast wave has blown them apart. But their ghostly image will linger for another thousand years because of the time it takes for light to travel from them to Earth.

The pillars have been astronomical icons since Hubble imaged them in 1995 (scroll down for Hubble image). They are part of a larger star-forming region called the Eagle Nebula, which lies 7000 light years away. That means we are seeing the pillars as they were 7000 years ago, when the light first left them.

Now, an infrared image from the Spitzer Space Telescope has revealed a previously unseen supernova blast wave that was advancing towards the pillars at that time, threatening to ultimately sweep them away.

Source: New Scientist



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A bit exhagerated, but true, mostly.

The pillars have been icons for quite a long time. Images of them are easily found in Palomar plates from the 1920's. Similar images from the Mayall 4 meter atop Kitt Peak here in AZ are available from the 1970's, and so on. HST just upped the ante with its high resolution.

If the supernova went off 7,000 years ago, and the Pillar's destruction was due to the speed of light, they'd already be gone. The blast wave from the supernova does not travel at the speed of light. It travels at hypersonic speed, something like the speed of an energetic CME from the Sun. (It can travel the 93,000,000 miles from sol to Earth in a couple days.) Since the Pillars are tens of light years across, it will take considerably longer for the wave to reach them. The estimate I heard from Science News Weekly, which quoted Astrophysical Journal said more like 1,000,000 years.

I know, it's nit picking, and I don't plan on being around for the collision, and that astronomers are usually happy with accuracies of one order of magnitude, this one's too far off. All "error bars" and no data. :D

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