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Eagle Nebula’s Pillars Were Wiped Out Thousands of Years Ago

Eagle Nebula. Image credit: SpitzerOne of the most famous space photographs ever taken is the “Pillars of Creation” by Hubble, an amazing image of the Eagle nebula. But a new image from the Spitzer Space Telescope provides evidence that those towers of gas and dust might have already been wiped away.

It gets a little difficult to understand, so bear with me. The Eagle Nebula is located about 7,000 light years from Earth. That means that light takes about 7,000 years to get to us from the nebula. We don’t see the nebula today, but how it looked thousands of years ago.

The photograph from Spitzer shows the Eagle nebula with a highlighted area in red. This is giant region scorched by a supernova that exploded about 1-2,000 years ago. In fact, the area is teeming with young, massive stars, ready to explode.

Although you can see the pillars in this photograph, you’re seeing the nebula as it looked 7,000 years ago. Astronomers estimate that it will probably only take another 1,000 years for the blast wave of the supernova to reach the pillars, and wipe them out. So – headache time again – the pillars were destroyed 6,000 years ago. We just need another 1,000 years before we can see the light from the event.

Enjoy the view while we still can.

Original Source: Spitzer News Release

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Fraser Cain is the publisher of Universe Today. He's also the co-host of Astronomy Cast with Dr. Pamela Gay.

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