Saturday, 2 February 2013


The Eagle Nebula

In 1995, the world was astounded by the beautiful Hubble Space Telescope images of the Eagle Nebula, a cloud of interstellar gas and dust 7,000 light-years from Earth.

Also known as M16, the Eagle Nebula is a 5.5 million-year-old cloud of molecular hydrogen gas and dust stretching approximately 70 light years by 55 light years. Inside the nebula, gravity pulls clouds of gas together to collapse inward. If enough gas is present, nuclear fusion is ignited in the center, and the compact cloud becomes a shining star. The Eagle Nebula is thought to have several star-forming regions within it.

What is a nebula?

A nebula (if we translate the Latin word ‘nebula’, it would simply mean ‘cloud’) is an interstellar cloud of dust, hydrogen, helium and other ionized gases. Indeed, a nebula is a cosmic cloud of gas and dust floating in space. It is formed when portions of the interstellar medium collapse and clump together due to the gravitational attraction of the particles that comprise them.

Nebulas contain the elements from which stars and solar systems are built. They are also among the most beautiful objects in the Universe, glowing with rich colors and swirls of light.

Where is the Eagle Nebula?

The Eagle Nebula lies 7,000 light-years away in the inner spiral arm of the Milky Way next to our own, the Sagittarius or Sagittarius-Carina Arm. When viewing the sky, the stellar nursery is found within the constellation of Serpens, the Serpent.

The nebula is viewable with the low-powered telescopes readily available to amateur astronomers, or with a pair of binoculars. With such equipment, observers can see approximately twenty stars clearly, surrounded by gas, dust, and the light of other, dimmer stars. In good conditions, the three pillars may also be seen.

What are the Pillars of Creation?

One of the best-known pictures of the Eagle Nebula is the Hubble Space Telescope image taken in 1995, highlighting the "Pillars of Creation." These pillars like structure were discovered in the middle of the Eagle nebula. The three columns contain the materials for building new stars, and stretch four light-years (37.8 trillion kilometers long) out into space. Newborn stars outside of the famous Hubble image are responsible for sculpting the pillars, using ultraviolet light to burn away some of the gas within the clouds.

In 2010, images of the pillars taken by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory peered inside the pillars to reveal only a handful of x-ray sources. Because new stars are supposed to be a hot bed of x-ray activity, scientists speculated that the star-forming days of the pillars were coming to an end. It seems the pillars were destroyed by a supernova explosion nearby.

This supernova explosion happened about 6,000 years ago, but since the nebula itself is 7,000 light years away, light would take 7,000 years to get to us. What we see of the pillars is how they looked like 7,000 years ago. So since the supernova happened 6,000 years ago, we will only see what happened to the pillars in another 1,000 years.

So while we still have time, we might as well enjoy the beauty of this creation.

To find out more about nebulas, try reading my new book - "How Big Is Our Universe - Answers To The Question You've Always Asked". You can click on the image below to hyperjump there.

To get a free 40 page sample of all the chapters, click on the image below.


  1. Please quit trying to use my facebook page to advertise your blog.

  2. The least you could do is show yourself so I would know which FB page to "quit trying to use to advertise my blog". What's the point of social media if you can't share knowledge anyway?