USA Today lists most of space.com’s large output on its site, including a curious one by the prolific Ker Than. He covered the Amer. Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle. From it he relays word that the main attractions in one of astronomy’s most iconic recent images, the so-called “pillars of creation” in the Eagle Nebula, are probably gone. The Tracker finds it worth posting in part just to put up the Hubble telescope’s unbelievable image from ten years ago (unbelievable is literally true. Its power came from extensive color tweaking that gives it far more drama than would greet the naked eye).
However, the story’s angle is an odd one: Since the nebula is 7,000 light years away, it says here, the scene has probably changed by now. More specifically, Than reports, astronomers figure the shock wave from a supernova visible to astronomers in newer images from the Spitzer Space Telescope probably swept the pillars away 6,000 years ago. So? Every photo of far-off galaxies, or even distant corners of the Milky Way, is similarly a glimpse of things long past. It doesn’t make the photo any less significant. There are probably even better-looking nebulae and blobs out there whose light hasn’t yet reached us.
The press release takes the same angle. But it would have made better sense, one suggests, to have written a general story about this time-travel aspect of astro-photos, and to have found a few other examples including this one of cosmic ephemera likely long gone. A science angle goes unexplored: how will the blast alter the star-formation processes visible on nodes of the pillars?
Other Stories: National Geographic News Richard A. Lovett does it too, with stress that in a few thousand years people will see the pillars slowly go and a link to an excellent version of the new, infrared image.
Grist for the Mill: NASA-Spitzer Press Release;