SCIENCE

The epic race inside the Pillars of Creation is almost over | by Ethan Siegel | Starts With A Bang! | Jul, 2024


This remarkable three-panel image showcases the same region of space: the Pillars of Creation. On the left, the 1995 Hubble view is shown. At center, the follow-up 2014 Hubble image, with an upgraded instrument suite, is presented. At right, the 2022 view, taken with JWST’s NIRCam imager, is displayed. The variety of features showcases the power of multiwavelength astronomy, but also subtly show the Pillars shrinking, as external radiation evaporates them away. (Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI; the Hubble Heritage Team; J. Hester and P. Scowen; compilation by E. Siegel)

The last infant stars are finishing their formation inside these pillars of gas. The evaporation of those columns is almost complete.

Some 6500 light-years away, an epic race nears its end.

This ground-based, wide-field image of the Eagle Nebula shows the star-forming region in all its glory, with new stars, the blue glow of reflected starlight, and the red glow of ionized all present. Dusty, light-blocking features are also prominent. The reddish glow at the gaseous outskirts is a result of hydrogen atoms recombining, and a photon of precisely 656.3 nanometers being emitted every time an electron transitions from the n=3 to the n=2 energy state. (Credit: ESO)

Inside the Eagle Nebula, the last stores of neutral gas now face evaporation.

A large section of the Eagle Nebula, with four of the Hubble Space Telescope’s iconic images superimposed atop the relevant region of the larger nebula. Although these features, highlighted by the central Pillars of Creation, are incredibly interesting because of the neutral matter still present, most of the Nebula is instead simply an empty, cavernous void littered with isolated stars and star clusters. (Credit: ESA/Hubble and NASA; Wikimedia Commons user Friendlystar)

Located within the Milky Way’s plane, new stars form when cold gas collapses.

The dense cores of protostar cluster G333.23–0.06, as identified by ALMA, show strong evidence for large levels of multiplicity within these cores. Binary cores are common, and groups of multiple binaries, forming quaternary systems, are also quite common. Triplet and quintuplet systems are also found inside, while, for these high-mass clumps, singlet stars turn out to be quite rare. It is expected that the stars forming in nebulae all throughout the Universe, including in the Eagle Nebula, have similar clumpy properties. (Credit: S. Li et al., Nature Astronomy, 2024)

That collapse leads to fragmentation, and eventually, the formation of new stellar systems.

Chandra’s unique ability to resolve and locate X-ray sources made it possible to identify hundreds of very young stars, and those still in the process of forming (known as “protostars”). Infrared observations from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and the European Southern Observatory indicate that 219 of the X-ray sources in the Eagle Nebula are young stars surrounded by disks of dust and gas and 964 are young stars without these disks: combined, more than 1000 new stars and protostars have been found. And no, there were no indications of recent supernovae or supernova remnants discovered; the Pillars are not in the process of being destroyed. (Credit: NASA/CXC/INAF/M.Guarcello et al.; Optical: NASA/STScI)



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