Credit: NASA, ESA/Hubble and the Hubble Heritage Team (Acknowledgement: P. Scowen (Arizona State University, USA) and J. Hester)

Found approximately 7,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Serpens, the Pillars of Creation are merely a small part of the expansive star forming region known as the Eagle Nebula (sometimes referred to as Messier 16). They, of course, are the most recognizable features though, and with good reason too.

In a new image from the European Southern Observatory's 'Very Large Telescope,' for the very first time, the Pillars have been realized as three-dimensional (3D) structures. Ultimately, this not only affords researchers the opportunity to study the manner in which the pillars are distributed, but it also brings new features to light.

Besides the Pillars of Creation, the Eagle Nebula boasts a wide-variety of cosmological phenomena, from star clusters to "elephant trunks." That which yields the most influence on the pillars themselves is NGC 6611: a star cluster known to harbor numerous B and O-type stars. The powerful ultraviolet radiation contained within the stars' stellar wind has a sculpting-effect on gas and dust—it evaporates the gas and errodes the dust, leaving hollow shells behind as relics.

This visualisation of the three-dimensional structure of the Pillars of Creation within the star formation region Messier 16 (also called the Eagle Nebula) is based on new observations of the object using the MUSE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile. The pillars actually consist of several distinct pieces on either side of the star cluster NGC 6611. In this illustration, the relative distance between the pillars along the line of sight is not to scale. (Credit: Credit:
ESO/M. Kornmesser)

To be more precise, when the stellar winds interact with surrounding material, less dense materials are affected the most. The denser material will persist for longer stretches of time but ultimately, they are forged into features astronomers call "elephant trunks" (or Bok globules). More often than not, they are also places where new stars coalesce under the force of gravity.

The rendering was constructed using the VLT's MUSE instrument; One interesting feature it spotted was a highly-energetic young star with a powerful jet. Additionally, it shed light on how quickly the pillars are evaporating. From the ESO:


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