ESO renders the Pillars of Creation in 3D


Astronomers have produced a three-dimensional view of the Pillars of Creation that has bedazzled earthlings ever since Hubble photographed it twenty years ago. This famous structure is composed of interstellar gas and dust and is located within the Eagle Nebula.

According to the European Southern Observatory, which produced the photo using the MUSE instrument on the ESO’s Very Large Telescope (yes, it’s really named that), the three-dimensional view of the Pillars of Creation provides new insights into how they came into being, the direction they are pointing, and how they will someday come to an end:

MUSE has shown that the tip of the left pillar is facing us, atop a pillar that is is actually situated behind NGC 6611, unlike the other pillars. This tip is bearing the brunt of the radiation from NGC 6611’s stars, and as a result looks brighter to our eyes than the bottom left, middle and right pillars, whose tips are all pointed away from our view.

The ESO’s MUSE instrument, which allows astronomers to observe “the entirety of an astronomical object in one go,” is the tool that made such a detailed image possible.

This view shows how the MUSE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope has created a three-dimensional view of the iconic Pillars of Creation in the star-forming region Messier 16. Each pixel in the data corresponds to a spectrum that reveals a host of information about the motions and physical conditions of the gas at that point. The slices of the data corresponding to some of the different chemical elements present are highlighted.

The MUSE instrument created the 3D view of the Pillars of Creation by capturing it in various wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum (ESO).

According to the ESO, vast structures of gas and dust like the Pillars of Creation take shape when newly formed, gigantic O and B class stars emit powerful ultraviolet radiation and stellar winds, clearing away all but the most dense materials from the vicinity.

The Pillars of Creation as seen in infrared light (NASA).

The Pillars of Creation are also shedding 70 times the mass of the Sun roughly every one million years. Since the current mass of the pillars is about 200 times that of the Sun, you may only have around three million years left to take one long last look.

This amazingly detailed photo of the Pillars of Creation was released earlier this year in honor of Hubble’s 25th anniversary.

Here’s another video of the Pillars of Creation in 3D:

About Author

Adam Cameron spent his academic career learning about Iran, but ultimately decided that a job in the military-security-industrial complex just wasn't for him. He worked with Iranian refugees for a few years and has always dreamed of being a writer. He lives in North Hollywood, California in an 8-bit cocoon made out of an elaborate blanket fort covered in Adventure Time posters.

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