The structure’s internal magnetism could mean the columns of gas and dust will be long-lived
NASA, ESA, Hubble Heritage Team/STScI and AURA
The Pillars of Creation may keep standing tall due to the magnetic field within the star-forming region.
For the first time, scientists have made a detailed map of the magnetic field inside the pillars, made famous by an iconic 1995 Hubble Space Telescope image (SN Online: 1/6/15). The data reveal that the field runs along the length of each pillar, perpendicular to the magnetic field outside. This configuration may be slowing the destruction of the columns of gas and dust, astronomer Kate Pattle and colleagues suggest in the June 10 Astrophysical Journal Letters.
Hot ionized gas called plasma surrounds the pillars, located within the Eagle Nebula about 7,000 light-years from Earth. The pressure from that plasma could cause the pillars to pinch in at the middle like an hourglass before breaking up. However, the researchers suggest, the organization of the magnetic field within the pillars could be providing an outward force that resists the plasma’s onslaught, preventing the columns from disintegrating.
“There are few clear measurements of the magnetic fields in objects like pillars,” says Koji Sugitani of Nagoya City University in Japan. To fully understand the formation of such objects, more observations are needed, he says.
Studying objects where stars are born, such as the pillars, could help scientists better understand the role that magnetic fields may play in star formation (SN: 6/9/18, p. 12). “This is really one of the big unanswered questions,” says Pattle, of National Tsing Hua University in Hsinchu, Taiwan. “We just don’t have a very good idea of whether magnetic fields are important and, if they are, what they are doing.”
K. Pattle et al. First observations of the magnetic field inside the Pillars of Creation: Results from the BISTRO survey. Astrophysical Journal Letters. Vol. 860, June 10, 2018. doi:10.3847/2041-8213/aac771.
L. Grossman. First 3-D map of a gas cloud in space shows it’s flat like a pancake. Science News. Vol. 193, June 9, 2018, p. 12.
A. Yeager. The art of astronomy. Science News. Vol. 187, April 18, 2015, p. 4.
A. Yeager. Hubble telescope snaps new images of iconic stellar nursery. Science News Online, January 6, 2015.