GARCHING, Germany, April 30 (UPI) -- More than 20 years after a Hubble telescope image made the Pillars of Creation one of the most famous structures in the cosmos, researchers have painted a more detailed picture of the dust columns -- thanks to another telescope.
Using the MUSE instrument on ESO's Very Large Telescope, astronomers have for the first time constructed a 3-D map of the Pillars of Creation.
The famous structure features a series of dust pillars formed by the intense energy of new stars in the Eagle Nebula. Thanks to the new data and 3-D map, scientists have a better understanding of the forces, new and old, that shaped the Pillars of Creation. They also can better predict how evaporation will continue to alter the columns.
The pillars were formed when intense radiation and solar winds expelled by new stars blew out less dense cosmic material. Stretched columns of dust and gas can be found in many nebulas.
But the same stars that created the columns also slowly destroy them. Over time, their energy slowly evaporates the pillar material, warping the columns into new shapes. The new data from MUSE reveals -- in never-before-seen detail -- how denser pockets of cosmic material protect more vulnerable expanses of gas and dust from evaporation.
But these shields can't protect the thinner wisps of material forever.
Astronomers calculate the pillars lose roughly 70 times the mass of the sun every million years. The material that remains makes up a mass roughly 200 times that of the sun. Basic math says the Pillars of Creation have just 3 million years left to live.
The new research was published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.