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Twisted Physics

Pillars of the Cosmos

11 May 2009, 08:32 UTC
Pillars of the Cosmos
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One of my favorite images from the Hubble Space Telescope is this one of the Eagle Nebula, dubbed the "Pillars of Creation." Breathtaking, isn't it? The name derives from the unique shape of the nebula, and also from the fact that the nebula serves as a stellar nursery, giving birth to new stars. Its small dark areas are believed to be protostars. Those pillars are gigantic clumps of cloud and dust, but scientists aren't sure how such rare giant star-forming structures like this evolve.It seems the conditions have to be just right. Last month, astronomers at the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies announced the results of their new computer models, which they claim show that the secret literally lies in the shadows. That is, "partially shadowed clumps of gas tend to creep towards darker areas." Those clumps keep aggregating and getting denser, filtering out the intense ultraviolet light coming from the stars so that they remain in shadow.The Eagle Nebula is pretty young, as cosmic structures go: probably no more than 100,000 years old. And according to the Dublin scientists' models, that would usually not be long enough for the shadow of a clump of gas to become dense enough ...

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