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ESO Captures Breathtaking Images of ’Pillars of Destruction’ in Carina Nebula

Nov 03, 2016 06:28 AM EDT
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Stunning new images of Carina Nebula show pillar-like structures that destroy the clouds of gas and dust that give birth to young stars.

Carina Nebula (NGC 3372), a massive hub of star formation, spans more than 300 light years and lies about 7,500 light-years away in the constellation Carina. New images from the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Very Large Telescope in Chile show long pillars and spires of cosmic dust and gas dubbed "Pillars of Destruction," the agency said in a statement.

An international team of researchers led by Anna McLeod, a doctoral student at ESO, observed the pillars and found that they are similar in nature with the Eagle Nebula's "Pillars of Creation," a star-forming region that was photographed by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope in 1995.

The researchers observed 10 of the pillars using the telescope's MUSE (Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer) instrument - a powerful device that could capture thousands of nebula images and allow astronomers to map out their chemical and physical properties.

Ironically, when a massive star forms, it starts to destroy the cloud of gas and dust from which it was born. Giant stars are known to blast great amounts of ionizing radiation, stripping atoms of their orbiting electrons and causing the gas to disperse. This energetic radiation is known as photoevaporation, and these powerful blasts are destroying the nebula and the pillars.

The researchers observed the results of photoevaporation and found a clear link between the amount of ionizing radiation coming from nearby stars and the dissipation of the pillars.

"We believe that the fundamental mechanism which forms pillar-like structures is the same for all star-forming regions: the radiation from the massive stars erodes the surrounding molecular clouds via photo-evaporation," McLeod told the Daily Mail. "Both the Carina and the Eagle Nebula are star-forming regions in the Milky Way, but they differ in terms of number of massive stars that have formed within them and are influencing the gas in them."

Further observations will be made using MUSE to understand the feedback mechanism between the stars and their pillars, ESO said.

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