The “Pillars of Creation” is one of the most visually stunning photographs ever taken by the NASA Hubble Space Telescope. The towering, billowing, colorful clouds of interstellar gas and dust reside in a corner of the Eagle Nebula about 6,500-7,000 light years from earth (quite close in astronomical terms). The pillars are massive objects, about 4-5 light years high. (The star closest to earth, Proxima-Centauri, is about 4 light years away.)
The billowing clouds are lit up by massive nearby stars, which bathe them in powerful ultraviolet radiation. This makes the elements in them glow In this picture, the colors represent green for hydrogen, red for sulphur, and blue for oxygen.
The name “Pillars of Creation”, which was chosen by NASA scientists, has a long history. The “pillars” are associated with the classical columns that support the temples of Greece and Rome. In a nineteenth sermon, the famous preacher Charles Spurgeon described Christ as “…he who created all things, and bears up the pillars of creation.”
These pillars illustrate two wonders of our universe – they were created and they are themselves creating. The clouds were gradually formed over time by gravity pulling together gas and dust, but now the pillars are forming new stars. The gas and dust clouds are under tremendous pressure, and periodically they ignite into the thermonuclear reactions that form new stars. These clouds are one of the many “stellar nurseries” found throughout our Milky Way galaxy. They may be a picture of how our own sun was formed billions of years ago.
As huge and majestic as these clouds are, they are slowly disintegrating. Ironically, the very stars that they have created are now barraging the clouds with strong ultraviolet radiation. This radiation heats up the gaseous clouds and tears them apart. A recent NASA article referred to them as the “pillars of destruction”. Because of this ongoing destruction, these pillars may no longer exist today. If we are still here, we will not witness their final demise for another 7,00 years, the time it takes for their light to reach us. If indeed they are disappearing, then we have been privileged to see them at the height of their beauty.
We live in an amazing universe. Whether it is stars formed in stellar nurseries or babies raised in human nurseries, the creation continues to create.
(Photo courtesy of NASA)