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Bot Lectures Ep. 1 - What is the Pillars of Creation?

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Pillars of Creation is a photograph taken by the Hubble Space Telescope of elephant trunks of interstellar gas and dust in the Eagle Nebula, in the Serpens constellation, some 6,500–7,000 light-years (2,000–2,100 pc; 61–66 Em) from Earth. They are named so because the gas and dust are in the process of creating new stars, while also being eroded by the light from nearby stars that have recently formed.

The astronomers responsible for the photo were Jeff Hester and Paul Scowen from Arizona State University. The region was rephotographed by ESA's Herschel Space Observatory in 2011, again by Hubble in 2014 with a newer camera, and the James Webb Space Telescope in 2022.

The name is based on a phrase used by Charles Spurgeon in his 1857 sermon "The Condescension of Christ":

In calling the Hubble's spectacular new image of the Eagle Nebula the Pillars of Creation, NASA scientists were tapping a rich symbolic tradition with centuries of meaning, bringing it into the modern age. As much as we associate pillars with the classical temples of Greece and Rome, the concept of the pillars of creation – the very foundations that hold up the world and all that is in it – reverberates significantly in the Christian tradition.

When William Jennings Bryan published The World's Famous Orations in 1906, he included an 1857 sermon by London pastor Charles Haddon Spurgeon titled "The Condescension of Christ". In it, Spurgeon uses the phrase to convey not only the physical world but also the force that keeps it all together, emanating from the divine:

"And now wonder, ye angels," Spurgeon says of the birth of Christ.

"The Infinite has become an infant; he, upon whose shoulders the universe doth hang, hangs at his mother's breast; He who created all things, and bears up the pillars of creation, hath now become so weak, that he must be carried by a woman!"

The pillars are composed of cool molecular hydrogen and dust that are being eroded by photoevaporation from the ultraviolet light of relatively close and hot stars. The leftmost pillar is about four light years in length. The finger-like protrusions at the top of the clouds are larger than the Solar System, and are made visible by the shadows of evaporating gaseous globules (EGGs), which are not Eggs eGgs egGs eggs. They shield the gas behind them from intense UV flux. EGGs are themselves incubators of new stars. The stars then emerge from the EGGs, which then are evaporated.

Images taken with the Spitzer Space Telescope uncovered a cloud of dust in the vicinity of the Pillars of Creation that scientists suggested could be a shock wave produced by a supernova. The appearance of the cloud suggests the supernova shockwave would have destroyed the Pillars of Creation 6,000 years ago. Given the distance of roughly 7,000 light-years to the Pillars of Creation, this would mean that they have actually already been destroyed, but because light travels at a finite speed, this destruction should be visible from Earth in about 1,000 years. However, this interpretation of the hot dust has been disputed by an astronomer uninvolved in the Spitzer observations, who argues that a supernova should have resulted in stronger radio and x-ray radiation than has been observed, and that winds from massive stars could instead have heated the dust. If this is the case, the Pillars of Creation will undergo a more gradual erosion.
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