Astronomy Now Home
Home Magazine Resources Store

On Sale Now!

The October 2014 issue of Astronomy Now is on sale! Order direct from our store (free 1st class post & to UK addresses). Astronomy Now is the only astronomy magazine specially designed to be read on tablets and phones. Download the app from Google Play Store or the Apple App Store.

Top Stories

Earthshine used to test life detection method
...By imagining the Earth as an exoplanet, scientists observing our planet's reflected light on the Moon with ESO's Very Large Telescope have demonstrated a way to detect life on other worlds...

Solid buckyballs discovered in space
...Astronomers using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope have detected a particular type of molecule, given the nickname “buckyball”, in a solid form for the first time...

Steamy water-world gets the Hubble treatment
...Hubble Space Telescope observations of a 7 Earth-mass planet find an unusual water-rich world swathed in a thick, steamy atmosphere...

Herschel revisits
Pillars of Creation

Astronomy Now
Posted: 18 January 2012

Bookmark and Share

The European Space Agency's Herschel Space Observatory has made stunning observations of the iconic Pillars of Creation, first brought to life by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1995.

The region is part of the Eagle Nebula, or M16, a place of star birth 6,500 light years away. The iconic dust and gas pillars rise several light years above their surrounds and have been carved by the intense radiation of hot young stars near their tips.

A wide field view of the Eagle Nebula in visible light (main image) with a close-up of Hubble's iconic shot of the Pillars of Creation (top right), also presented in near infrared light by ESO's Very Large Telescope (bottom right). Image: MPG/ESO (main image); NASA/ESA/STScI (Hubble); VLT/ISAAC/AIP/ESO (near-infrared).

While Hubble is sensitive to visible light, Herschel can see in infrared, giving astronomers the ability to see through the thick dust that would otherwise obscure the view. With this capability Herschel can see inside the columns of cold gas and dust to see where dense gas is collapsing into new stars.

In Herschel's false-colour view the blue material is warm compared to its surroundings – although still below -200 degrees Celsius – with the brightest blue and white material the dense sites of new star formation. Eventually, the young stars will blow away their cocoons of surrounding material and become visible at optical wavelengths. The red regions are much colder, just a few tens of degrees above absolute zero (-273 degrees Celsius), but the bright red and orange zones show clumps of cold dust that are likely in the process of collapsing into more compact regions, eventually to ignite in new stars.

Herschel's new view of the Pillars of Creation at far infrared wavelengths (top right), and XMM-Newton's X-ray view of the central star cluster, NGC 6611 (bottom right), combined in the main image. Image: ESA/Herschel/PACS/SPIRE/HOBYS Consortium.

“These observations reveal how complicated the formation of stars is," says Professor Glenn White of the Open University and The Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. “The local environment in the Eagle Nebula is probably very similar to that when our own Solar System when formed almost 5 billion years ago - so seeing these images is a bit like using a time machine to look at how our own Solar System must have been born. In the Eagle Nebula we are observing the formation of individual stars, as well as seeing the way that that radiation from an earlier generation of stars formed several million years previously can induce new star formation in nearby material in the Galaxy”.

To complement Herschel's far infrared view, X-ray observations from ESA's XMM-Newton spacecraft, and optical and near-infrared observations from ESO's ground-based Very Large Telescope, as well as Hubble, provide a multi-wavelength view of the star-formation region, revealing also the locations of hot young stars in the central star cluster, NGC 6611, responsible for eroding away the pillars. Astronomers suspect that one of the cluster's more massive stars may have already exhausted its fuel supply and exploded in a fiery supernova event, contributing to the destruction of the pillars.

The Planets
From tiny Mercury to distant Neptune and Pluto, The Planets profiles each of the Solar System's members in depth, featuring the latest imagery from space missions. The tallest mountains, the deepest canyons, the strongest winds, raging atmospheric storms, terrain studded with craters and vast worlds of ice are just some of the sights you'll see on this 100-page tour of the planets.

Hubble Reborn
Hubble Reborn takes the reader on a journey through the Universe with spectacular full-colour pictures of galaxies, nebulae, planets and stars as seen through Hubble's eyes, along the way telling the dramatic story of the space telescope, including interviews with key scientists and astronauts.

3D Universe
Witness the most awesome sights of the Universe as they were meant to be seen in this 100-page extravaganza of planets, galaxies and star-scapes, all in 3D!


© 2014 Pole Star Publications Ltd.