20 Awe-Inspiring Eagle Nebula Facts

by Sankalan Baidya
awe-inspiring eagle nebula facts

In our last article on Eagle Nebula facts we did not talk about the two most enigmatic features of the nebula – The Pillars of Creation and The Stellar Spire. We will talk about those in this article on awe-inspiring Eagle Nebula facts. So, let us begin without wasting time any further…

Awe-Inspiring Eagle Nebula Facts: 1-5

1. In the Eagle Nebula sits the Pillars of Creation – three finger-like projections running upwards.

2. These pillars were so named because the huge number of stars that formed inside those pillars.

3. These pillars were, for the first time, photographed in 1995 by the celebrated Hubble Space Telescope. The people who took the photograph were Paul Scowen and Jeff Hester.

awe-inspiring eagle nebula facts

Image of Eagle Nebula Showing Pillars of Creation and Stellar Spire | By ESO – http://www.eso.org/public/images/eso0926a/, CC BY 4.0, Link

4. The Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula were very much similar to Pillars of Star Creation in Cassiopeia constellation’s Soul Nebula. Interestingly, the Pillars of Star Creation is far bigger in size and they were photographed in 2005 by Spitzer Space Telescope.

5. The Pillars of Creation no longer exist. That came as a surprise after a new set of images were taken by XMM Newton and Herschel space telescopes from European Space Agency.

Awe-Inspiring Eagle Nebula Facts: 6-10

6. The new images suggested that the pillars were actually destroyed some 6,000 years in the past because of a nearby Supernova Explosion that took place some 8,000 to 9,000 years ago.

7. We still continue to see the Pillars of Creation because we are actually looking back into the past when we look into space. How is that possible? The quick explanation is given in the box below:

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We can see something only when the light reflected from the surface of the object reaches our eyes. It takes time for light to reach our eyes (however less it may be). So, basically, we are always looking into the past.


8. The Pillars of Creation sit at a distance of 7,000 light years from us. So, the image that we see today is actually the light that has been traveling through space for a period of 7,000 years.

9. Since the Supernova Explosion took place some 8,000 to 9,000 years back, the light from it had already reach earth some 1,000 to 2,000 years back. However, the slow moving shock wave created by the supernova passed through the Eagle Nebula over a period of a few thousand years and destroyed the pillars. The light from the period of actual destruction will reach us in another 1,000 years. So, we will be able to see the destruction of the pillars in about a millennium from now.

10. We saw the Pillars of Creation but unless science achieves immortality, we will not be able to see the destruction. Our future generations may witness that but by the time they see it, they will also be looking into the past and the event would have long gone!

Awe-Inspiring Eagle Nebula Facts: 11-15

11. The results of the images taken by the XMM Newton and Herschel space telescopes were actually confirmed by Spitzer Space Telescope, which observed hot gasses suggesting that a supernova explosion did take place.

12. The Pillars of Creation may look tiny in images and even tinier with the Eagle Nebula in the background. Don’t be fooled though. They were big, really big. The tallest pillar that we see in images was as tall as 4 light years, which translates into 23,462,784,000,000 miles. Yes, that’s how tall the tallest pillar was.

Awe-inspiring Eagle Nebula Facts - Pillars of Creation

By Credit: NASA, Jeff Hester, and Paul Scowen (Arizona State University) – http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/newsdesk/archive/releases/2003/34/image/a, Public Domain, Link

13. Just to give you a quick understanding, the protruding head of the tallest pillar was big enough to nicely accommodate our entire solar system.

14. The pillars were composed of incredibly dense clouds of dust and gas. The extreme gravity and huge density of the pillars made the gasses and dust to fuse together and form stars. Literally thousands of stars were formed inside these pillars.

15. The other interesting feature of the Eagle Nebula is the Stellar Spire. Sitting in the northeastern part of the nebula, this Stellar Spire is humongous.


Image Credit: NASA | Link

Awe-Inspiring Eagle Nebula Facts: 16-20

16. The Stellar Spire is 9.5 light years long. That is, stretches out 90 trillion kilometers!

17. The spire is so named because it looks like a statue of a winged fairy standing on a pedestal.

18. The Stellar Spire is another area of rampant star formation. This spire is also made of cold dust and gas that come together to form what is known as EGGs or Evaporating Gaseous Globules, which are basically the sources of new stars.

19. This pillar or the Stellar Spire is also getting eroded from the top by ultraviolet rays released by young, hot and massive stars. One day, this Stellar Spire will also be gone just like the Pillars of Creation no longer exist today.

20. When the image of the Stellar Spire was released, many people said that they could see a humanoid-like figure in the pillar. But scientists clarified that it is called pareidolia or illusion that is called by clouds inside a nebula.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

Featured Image Credit: Image by Jimmy Walker

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