“GEER”ing up for Planet Simulation

Image credit: NASA

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to see the surface of another planet up close? Well, NASA researchers in Cleveland are making this possible right here on Earth. The Glenn Extreme Environments Rig (GEER) is a chamber capable of regenerating temperatures, pressures and gaseous contents of a chosen environment. In 2014, researchers at NASA used GEER to recreate the conditions found on Venus for 24 days. This is quite a feat because the surface of Venus can reach temperatures greater than 460°C (860°F) and pressures more than 1385 psi, which is about the strength of a pressure washer! In comparison, the pressure of Earth’s atmosphere is around 14.7 psi at sea level.  The clouds on Venus are also made of highly corrosive materials, including sulfuric acid and hydrogen fluoride. Not exactly a place you’d like to visit.

Although the GEER chamber seems small, with only three by four-foot dimensions, it weighs in at twelve tons. GEER is capable of injecting up to nine different gasses with an accuracy equivalent to being able to count the drops of water in a 10-gallon fish tank.

Image source: WikipediaSo, what is the use of such a heavy duty device? By simulating the conditions on Venus, we can design and test materials better able to handle the dangerous atmosphere, which will better allow us to generate probes, like Curiosity on Mars. Previously built probes have only lasted on the surface of Venus for a few hours!

In the future, the scientists working with GEER are planning to add viewing windows, real time gas analysis, and a chamber to generate clouds. We are coming close to creating “Venus in a bottle”!

Peer edited by Christina Parker. 

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Understanding the Space of Space

Image credit: NASA

Image of Earth taken from lunar orbit during the Apollo 11 mission. Mars is also faintly visible to the right of Earth.

In the past, the largest obstacle that separated humans was distance. In the first half of the 20th century, we built machines that made it possible to drive non-stop from Wilmington, NC to San Diego, CA in one and a half days or to fly the same distance in just five hours. As soon as we conquered these terrestrial distances, humans set their sights on the cosmos– but space has a lot of space.
Rockets provide the speeds necessary to send humans to the Moon and rovers to Mars. It seems humans have once again conquered vast distances to reach previously unreachable lands. We can travel from the East Coast to San Francisco in under 5 hours, but that doesn’t mean people in rural North Carolina do it. The Moon is our closest celestial neighbor, but that doesn’t mean you will notice a difference in size between full moons each month. We can travel to Mars in as little as 60 days, but that doesn’t mean it’s close enough to Earth to appear as big as the Moon. Any species with our technology could, in theory, colonize the galaxy in a few million years, but that doesn’t mean it’s been accomplished.
Understanding the space of space not only provides us a cosmic perspective, it gives us the ability to question fantastic memes and eases our disappointment when a celestial event isn’t as spectacular as promised.

Not-So-Super Moon

You may have seen posts on social media telling you to look up at the full moon on November 14th, 2016. At that time, the Moon was the closest that is had been to Earth since 1948. When the Moon approaches the full moon phase and is closest to Earth, we call that a supermoon. It’s not quite as rare as it sounds; there were actually three supermoons in October, November and December of last year. The thing is, while the Moon may be closer to Earth in its orbit, it is still really far away. Travelling at jet plane speeds, it would take you 16 to 19 days to get to the Moon. The Apollo astronauts, however, could reach lunar orbit with their rocket in under 10 hours. Compared to more familiar distances, the Earth-Moon distance is 100 times larger than the Wilmington-San Diego distance.

 Image credit: Tanya Hill created this graphic for the Nov 11, 2016 issue of Cosmos magazine.

This graphic takes images of the largest and smallest full moons of 2016 and shrinks them down by the same amount to mimic how big the Moon appears to someone on Earth. The two images are then placed in the same frame for comparison. In the image, one definitely looks bigger, but would you notice the difference 7 months later?

Another way to visualize the distance to the Moon is to look at how big it appears to us here on Earth. At over 2000 miles across, a little less than the Wilmington-San Diego distance, this large body is so far away that it always appears less than an inch wide to us in the sky. During the three full moons in October, November and December, if you were to hold your hand a foot away from your face and try to hold the full Moon between your thumb and pointer finger, the space between your fingers would only change by one-thousandth of an inch each month– less than the thickness of a sheet of paper.
On Friday, June 9, 2017, when the Moon is farthest away from Earth, what is known as a micro moon will occur. On that day, your fingers will be one-hundredth of an inch closer together than during the supermoons– about the thickness of a standard business card. An untrained eye would never notice a difference. So, if you were less than impressed by the supermoon in November, it’s totally understandable.

Distant Warrior Planet

Image credit: Snopes.com

Every summer, this meme pops up in my news feed. It claims that Mars will be so close to Earth that it will appear as big as the Moon. While the distance between the Earth and Mars varies significantly as both planets orbit the Sun, as they move closer to each other it would still take 52 days to get to Mars on one of our rockets. This is because even at their closest, the Earth-Mars distance is ten thousand times the Wilmington-San Diego distance and well over 100 times the Earth-Moon distance. If we think about this in terms of how big Mars looks to us, at two times the width of the Moon, Mars would need to be placed at twice the Earth-Moon distance to appear the same size as the Moon to us Earthlings. Mars’ orbit will never let this happen. Mars will always appear as a red point of light.

No matter how many articles have been written debunking this ‘double moon’ hoax, it’s survived for 13 years. We easily fall for this meme because we’ve heard of probes and rovers being sent to Mars in less than a year’s time but we lack the perspective of how fast these spacecraft are travelling and the distances they are able to cover.

Interstellar Travel: Where are all the aliens?

When we talk about travelling to places beyond our solar system, we immediately think about aliens and enter the realm of speculation. This can be fun, but we have to be careful. The distances we are working with are significantly larger than the distances we cover within our solar system. Travel time becomes a much bigger issue.
The average distance between stars in our galaxy is 4 light years or 23 trillion miles– one million times the Earth-Mars distance and ten billion times the Wilmington-San Diego distance. With our current technology, it would take approximately 100,000 years to travel this distance. We could start by sending one ship to the recently discovered Earth-like planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our Sun. Once there, we would need to establish a community. Less than 500 years passed between Christopher Columbus sailing the ocean blue and the Apollo moon landing. Just to be generous, let’s say it takes 1000 years to settle down and establish a space flight program on a new planet.
So humans would now have two colonies that could send ships out. With this strategy, we could double the number of worlds sending out new ships every 101,000 years. That would mean after just 505,000 years we’d be sending ships out to 32 planets. After 1 million years, 956 planets. And after just 4 million years, 800 billion planets. Astronomers estimate that half of the 200 billion stars in our galaxy have planets. In one thousandth of the time it took for Earth to form and evolve intelligent life, a space-faring species could have colonized all the planets in our galaxy eight times over. This begs the question: where are all the aliens?
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons user Prosopee.

A representation of the Coral Model of galactic colonization, described in this article.

Although we can calculate an average distance of 4 light years between the stars in our galaxy, our own Sun only has one star with a planet within that distance. The next closest star after Proxima Centauri is 6 light years away. If we were to continue sending out ships as described above from Earth, the travel time would no longer be 100,000 years but 165,000 years. The next closest star is 6.5 light years. Again, increasing our travel time. Astronomers have yet to detect planets around either of these stars, so why would we even go to them? It seems a more realistic approach would be to send out a new ship every 101,000 years from the planet we just colonized. This strategy would require 100 trillion years to visit all 100 billion stars– 100,000 times longer than the age of our solar system and 10,000 times longer than the age of the universe. So while these are a fun exercises, they are not realistic ways for any civilization to conquer the galaxy.
The space of space is huge. Understanding its vastness not only makes you less susceptible to bogus memes, it gives you a better perspective of how far humans have come in our quest to explore and how far we still have to go.

Peer edited by Salma Azam, Holly Schroeder and Leila Strickland.

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Cold, What Is It Good For?

https://pixabay.com/en/woman-girl-winter-cold-person-1024998/Winter is officially still three weeks away, although the alternating 30° F nights and 75° F days makes that difficult to remember. The arrival of winter means that it is less pleasant to be outside, there are fewer hours of sunlight, and it is harder to get out of bed in the morning. Most Southerners don’t really enjoy the winter. But here are three ways really cold temperatures actually help physicists in their quest to understand nature.

Stargazing

Some telescopes must go to the extreme cold in Antarctica. The South Pole Telescope is recording some of the first light from the universe. This light, called the Cosmic Microwave Background, contains clues to help astronomers understand what makes up the Universe and how that has changed over time. The high altitude and low temperatures in Antarctica make it possible to see these radio waves, as there is less water vapor present in the atmosphere to absorb them when compared to other regions. For a fascinating account of what it is like to work with the South Pole Telescope, check out Keith’s blog from his time there.

For most observatories, the best observing conditions occur during the winter. This is primarily because the air is less turbulent. Heat from the earth rises up at night during the summer months, creating a more turbulent atmosphere. This causes stars to appear more blurry. But during the winter, the ground is cooler, so there is less turbulence at night. However, most observatories experience more extreme weather during the winter, somewhat limiting how often astronomers can utilize the best conditions.

The colder weather is a great reason to go to a star party over the next few months. For people living in the Triangle, the Morehead Planetarium teams up with the Chapel Hill Astronomical and Observational Society to stargaze about once a month at Jordan Lake. You can see the full schedule here.

Quantum Mechanics

When you think about how things move and interact, you are most likely pondering what physicists refer to as classical mechanics, the motion of relatively large things. But quantum mechanics deals with how tiny, individual atoms and particles move and interact with their environment. However, quantum mechanics is difficult to study because atoms move quickly at room temperature. When the temperature drops, though, atoms lose energy and slow down. This enables physicists to study some of the strange quantum mechanical properties of atoms. For example, at temperatures around -459° F, individual atoms can gather together and begin acting collectively like a single atom. At the coldest possible temperature, known as absolute zero (-459.6° F), atoms lose all their energy and stop moving. This phenomenon of particles acting as a group only occurs close to absolute zero, forming a state of matter known as a Bose-Einstein condensate. First created in a laboratory in 1995 and winning the Physics Nobel Prize in 2001, Bose-Einstein condensates help physicists study some of the strange quantum mechanical properties of atoms and how they interact in extreme conditions.

The Large Hadron Collider

http://cds.cern.ch/record/1211045

The Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Image credit: CERN

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a 16.7-mile long particle collider on the border of France and Switzerland, operates at -456° F, slightly warmer than the temperature required for Bose-Einstein condensates. Before colliding, particles can travel around the ring thousands of times. To keep particles along the track before colliding, the LHC uses strong magnetic fields generated by superconducting materials. Electric current is required to make the magnetic fields, which often generates heat (think of how cell phones heat up during charging). Superconducting materials, instead, create very little heat when cooled down to very low temperatures, creating the right conditions for physicists to use them at the LHC. These conditions enable the LHC to investigate the building blocks of nature.

So the next time you are fretting over the cold, perhaps you can remember the physicists who need the cold to make discoveries happen.

Peer edited by Lindsay Walton and Manisit Das.

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Perseid Meteor to Light Up Night Sky

The Perseids are here! This annual meteor shower is one of the best and brightest, but this year it’s predicted to be even more spectacular. So, if you’re in a dark place tonight, look up. You may see a 4.5-billion-year-old remnant from the solar system burn up in our atmosphere.

Astronaut Ron Garan took this picture from the International Space Station. It shows a Comet Swift-Tuttle particle burning up in Earth's atmosphere. Credit: Ron Garan, NASA

Astronaut Ron Garan took this picture from the International Space Station. It shows a Comet Swift-Tuttle particle burning up in Earth’s atmosphere. Credit: Ron Garan, NASA

Comets are conglomerations of ice and dust leftover from our solar system’s formation. A lot of the material that swirled around our young sun developed into the eight planets and numerous dwarf planets and asteroids. Some of the smaller bodies that formed were forced into elongated orbits by gravitational interactions with the larger planets. These trajectories take them out to the extreme edges of our solar system, then the Sun’s gravitational embrace usually pulls them back in for a warm hug.

In 1992, Comet Swift-Tuttle passed through Earth’s orbit as it came in for a visit. As the comet approached the Sun, the rise in temperature vaporized some of the ice, leaving a trail of small chucks of rock and ice. These icy particles still remain in the inner solar system today.

Every year, between mid-July and mid-August, the Earth slams into the debris trail left by Comet Swift-Tuttle at 67,000 mph. As the ice and rock enters our atmosphere, it burns up, and a meteor shower occurs. The streaks of light appear to originate from the constellation Perseus — hence the name Perseids. Earth will pass through the densest part of the trail on August 12th , and this year’s shower is predicted to be more amazing than previous years.

Computer simulations of Jupiter’s gravitational influence on the icy trail show that the gas giant has caused the material in Earth’s path to bunch up. This means that instead of the normal peak activity of 60 meteors per hour, it could double to 120 meteors per hour! Even though more meteors are predicted this year, the debris that makes them is incredibly small — about the size of the grain of sand. This means you need to find a dark place, away from city lights, to get the best views.

In order to see the most meteors you need to give your eyes about 30 minutes to adapt to the dark. Use a flashlight with red photography gel over the beam to help keep your eyes dark-adjusted. You also need to put down the cell phone. Any concentrated light will undo all the sensitivity you gained by letting your eyes adapt. There are apps you can download that filter out the bright blue light emitted from your screen, but it will still take some time for your eyes to readjust to the darkness every time you check your Facebook.

The constellation Perseus rises in the northeast between 9 and 10 PM local time. On August 12th, the Moon will be three-fourths illuminated, meaning it will be pretty bright. If you want to get the most out of your Perseid viewing experience, wait until the Moon sets around 1 AM in Chapel Hill.

Even if you can’t catch the peak, Earth will be passing through the path of Comet Swift-Tuttle through August 24th. So, there’s a good chance you can watch 4.5 billion years of history burn.

Peer edited by Caddy Hobbs.

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The End of A Planetary Road Trip

Recently, NASA’s JUNO spacecraft slowed down by 1,212 miles per hour in a carefully coordinated 35 minute maneuver. This slowdown is similar to you slamming on the brakes to stop your car on the highway in 2 seconds. Braking to the exact right speed allowed JUNO to be captured by Jupiter’s gravity and start orbiting the giant planet. Just like a long road trip, as spacecraft travel from Earth to their destination, they often cruise at high speed to reach their destination in a relatively short amount of time. But that means if you want to orbit or land on the planet, you must slow down a lot. Here are three ways NASA has dealt with the tricky task of ending a planetary road trip.

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Discovering New Horizons

Humans need to explore. Not because it is in our DNA – the gene for exploration hasn’t been discovered yet – but because it is essential to our survival and well-being as a species. Scarcity of food and changing weather most likely pushed our ancient ancestors from their African homelands. Religious persecution forced many to flee Europe in search of a safe place to practice. The political pressure of the Cold War prompted us to send men to the Moon. The exploration of space is often sold as “the final frontier,” but there are real discoveries and knowledge attained from these expeditions that can benefit our species.

What We’ve Learned From Other Planets

Information gathered from Venus’s atmosphere showed us the effects that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) have on Earth’s ozone layer. Planetary scientists were trying to understand how CO2 remained present in such large quantities in the atmosphere of Venus. They thought chlorine and fluorine molecules may have had something to do with it. Models that incorporated reaction rates between chlorine, fluorine and O3 did not significantly affect the amount of CO2 trapped in Venus’ atmosphere, but when the same reaction rates were modeled in Earth-like conditions, the depletion of the ozone layer was discovered. This led to a worldwide effort to reduce CFCs in Earth’s atmosphere.
Measuring the effects of dust storms on Mars prompted a team of scientists to model the effects of a global nuclear war. During the Mariner 9 mission to Mars, a planet-wide dust storm obscured the surface of the planet. Instruments on the probe measured temperatures in the upper atmosphere higher than they should have been and temperatures at the surface much lower than expected. Theoretical models at the time predicted that large amounts of debris would be lifted into the atmosphere during nuclear explosions that could block sunlight from reaching Earth for an extended period of time. Using the Martian data and the theoretical nuclear dust clouds, a team of 5 scientists (Richard Turco, Owen Toon, Thomas Ackerman, James Pollack and Carl Sagan) calculated the effect this dirt shroud would have on our planet. They dubbed the results a “Nuclear Winter” and used this information to convince politicians to use caution when discussing nuclear solutions and to reduce our nuclear weapons stockpile.
The human race has now sent probes to all of the major planets and some of their moons. Each mission has accrued a wealth of data that may once again be used to benefit our planet. The most recent mission that we are receiving data from is the New Horizons mission to Pluto.

New Horizons

Artist conception of New Horizons Spacecraft. Credits: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

Artist conception of New Horizons Spacecraft.
Credits: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

Launched on January 19, 2006, the New Horizons satellite has a suite of instruments ready to tackle many scientific questions concerning planetary bodies that lie beyond Neptune in the region known as the Kuiper Belt. These instruments will study the geology, temperature and composition of the surface of these pristine worlds. The satellite will initially study Pluto and its moon Charon, then continue deeper into the Kuiper Belt to study other icy bodies. Some of the major questions New Horizons will answer are:
  • Why are Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs) composed differently than the major planets?
  • What formation mechanisms occurred in the Kuiper belt?
  • How did bombardment of KBOs change throughout the Solar System’s history?
  • How did the Earth lose its primordial atmosphere?
As of August 2006, Pluto is no longer considered a major planet. But that does not affect New Horizons’ mission or change the significance of its findings. Pluto still holds the answers to many questions we have about our planet.

What Could We Learn About Earth from Pluto?

Pluto and its Kuiper Belt companions are relics from the formation of our Solar System. They are a pristine conglomeration of materials that orbited our newly formed Sun. This material could have been bombarded by ejecta from a nearby supernova explosion, enriching it and our planet with heavier elements. The chemical composition of these bodies could include organic material that was used to seed our planet with life. There is a lot to learn about the formation of our home from these icy worlds.
One of the main goals of New Horizons is to study Pluto’s atmosphere. The atmosphere of the recently formed Earth was full of hydrogen that rapidly dissipated into space. The removal of hydrogen from the Earth’s atmosphere may have played a role in making it hospitable for life. This process is currently happening on Pluto allowing us to study this process in real-time and note its effects on the surface.
Organic molecules have also been detected on Pluto and are thought to be present on all KBOs. This could indicate that organic compounds were present at the very beginning of our Solar System’s formation. Where these compounds are located and how much is present in the Pluto-Charon system could reveal if KBOs carried the seeds for life as they were forced towards the inner planets.

Recent New Horizons Results

True color image of Pluto taken by New Horizons. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

True color image of Pluto taken by New Horizons.
Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

The first ever images of Pluto’s surface revealed that it is comprised of both regions unaltered since the formation of the Solar System and those that have been created in the last 10 million years. The range of surface age indicates that Pluto is geologically active, like Earth. So far, glaciers and possible active ice volcanoes have been discovered on Pluto. The beautiful heart shaped region was partially shaped by flowing nitrogen, carbon monoxide and methane-rich ice, just as glaciers shaped parts of North America here on Earth.
Images of Pluto revealed a surprising reddish colored surface attributed to the presence of complex hydrocarbon compounds (mixtures of hydrogen and carbon). As New Horizons sped past Pluto, it turned around to capture a backlit image allowing scientists to see in detail, for the first time, the atmosphere. Methane, present in Pluto’s atmosphere, is exposed to UV radiation that breaks down the molecule. This allows the formation of more complex hydrocarbons, which are heavier and fall down to the surface, creating the swaths of red seen in these images. Similar processes could have occurred on a recently formed Earth, creating a chemical mixture of life that rained down onto our planet.
Some insight into the formation of Pluto and other KBOs has been gleaned from this new information. There is a surprising lack of small (<1 mile wide) craters on Pluto and Charon, suggesting that the bodies that formed KBOs were much larger than expected. The widely accepted theories have KBOs forming from much smaller objects to create larger ones. This new information has now shifted the focus to those models that used objects approximately 10 miles wide to create the KBOs we see today. This has scientists excited for New Horizon’s next target.

The Future of New Horizons

Hubble Space Telescope image of MU69. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, SwRI, JHU/APL, and the New Horizons KBO Search Team

Hubble Space Telescope image of MU69.
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, SwRI, JHU/APL, and the New Horizons KBO Search Team

New Horizons has been placed on a trajectory to fly by the 30 mile wide KBO MU69 in January of 2019. MU69 is located in the central regions of the main part of the Kuiper Belt and is considered to be an ancient object due to its relatively circular orbit. Unlike Pluto, which was probably ejected into its current inclined orbit by the gas giants, MU69 most likely spent its entire life in the Kuiper Belt. MU69’s surface is expected to hold an untouched story of the very beginnings of our Solar System. Scientists are also excited by the possibility to study a potential building block of larger KBOs such as Pluto.
New Horizons is still transmitting data back to Earth and will be for many years to come. At the time of its closest approach to Pluto, it took 4 hours and 25 minutes for information to travel from the probe to Earth. As New Horizons speeds towards its next target, that time will increase. By the time it reaches MU69, which is over a billion miles from Pluto, it will take 6 hours to receive information from the probe.
Scientists are actively analyzing information as it streams in from New Horizons. Who knows what seemingly mundane piece of information will lead to a direct application to a process here on Earth? Just as processes on Venus and Mars opened our eyes to the effects of human activity in our atmosphere, processes on Pluto and MU69 could lead to insights into our planet that benefit our species once again.
To learn more about the New Horizons mission and Pluto, visit NASA’s website.

Peer edited by Christine Lee & Kelsey Noll

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The Pillars of Creation and Destruction

We like to think of the Universe as static. Our time is very short compared to the age of the Universe. But there are processes in space that happen on the time scales we inhabit. The variation in brightness of certain types of stars allow astronomers to measure the distances from the Earth to the galaxies where they reside. By taking images at different times over the course of a few years, the trajectories of stars orbiting the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy can be followed. And, using instruments like Hubble Space Telescope, we can see the destruction of large structures such as the Pillars of Creation.

Image courtesy of the National Science Foundation's 0.9-meter telescope on Kitt Peak using the NOAO Mosaic CCD camera.

Image courtesy of the National Science Foundation’s 0.9-meter telescope on Kitt Peak using the NOAO Mosaic CCD camera.

The Pillars of Creation are a small part of the Eagle Nebula (pictured above), a huge expanse of gas (mostly hydrogen) and dust where stars are created. The entire structure is estimated to be 5 million years old. The Nebula is 38 quadrillion miles from Earth in the constellation Serpens and is approximately 400 trillion miles at its widest point. The Eagle Nebula is so far away that when viewed from Earth, it would barely span the thickest part of the crescent Moon on the sky. In Hubble Telescope image shown below, we are zoomed in on a small part of the Eagle Nebula, highlighted in a yellow box in top most image. At 23 trillion miles in length, the leftmost pillar would stretch from the Sun to our closest stellar neighbor, Alpha Centauri.

The Pillars get their shape from a group of young, hot stars that were recently created. We can imagine that at one time the Eagle Nebula was a vast expanse of gas and dust with some regions having higher density than others. Gravity works quickly in these situations and the denser portions of the nebula begin to condense further, pulling in more of the surrounding material. Eventually, the densely packed gas ignites and a star is born. These newly formed stars blast away at the remaining gas, heating up and dissipating everything in their path.

Hubble Space Telescope image of the Pillars of Creation taken in 2014.

Hubble Space Telescope image of the Pillars of Creation taken in 2014.

The Hubble images are a bit deceiving, although the pillars appear to be straight up and down, they are actually angled towards the young, hot stars that are illuminating their structure. As viewed from Earth the leftmost pillar is behind the young stars and angled towards them, causing it to appear brighter than the rest of the structure. The remaining pillars are in front of the young stars and angled towards them and appear darker. At the top of each pillar resides a thicker, denser pocket of gas which shields the remaining gas from the intense stellar radiation. This is why the gas formed ‘pillars’ instead of completely dissipating.

1995 and more recent Hubble images for comparison.

1995 and more recent Hubble images for comparison.

In 1995, five years after its launch, Hubble snapped the first highly detailed image of the Pillars. Twenty years later, for Hubble’s 25th anniversary, an even more detailed picture has been released by NASA. After just 19 years, there are visible differences between the two images, revealing how quickly the gas is being blown away. According to some astronomers, the Pillars should last another 3 million years, possibly dissipating into space before the group of young, hot stars run out of fuel and explode as supernovae. There are a few astronomers that believe the Pillars have already been eradicated by a supernova explosion, the light of which has yet to reach us. Whether or not they still exist, the Pillars of Creation are being destroyed right before our very eyes, but they will not passively disappear into space. Instead, they will live on through the stars they are creating within their dense insides, leaving behind a beacon to their once impressive existence.


Peer edited by Chelsea Boyd & Christina Lee

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This article was co-published on the TIBBS Bioscience Blog and on Jo’s blog AstroPunkin.