Optical and Infrared Images of the "Pillars of Creation"


PureInsight | July 8, 2002

Many people believe that "seeing is believing". But modern science has indicated that what human eyes see is not necessarily the truth.

Figure 1 shows an optical image of the "eagle" nebula taken by an optical camera on the Hubble telescope. When released in 1995, it was called the "Pillars of Creation". The awesome pillars are several light-years long, big enough to stretch from our Sun to its nearest stellar neighbors. They've already been regarded as representations of the cosmos' splendor and beauty.

The nebula was described as a region of intense star formation. However, the latest infrared observations (Figure 2) suggest that the Eagle is not a stellar breeding base; it has in fact produced very few stars and is rapidly fading.

According to BBC News, Professor Rodger Thompson, of the University of Arizona, US, has been observing the Eagle Nebula using the Nicmos (Near-infrared camera and multi-object spectrometer) on the Hubble Space Telescope. He told one BBC reporter, "They look like very dark, dense columns of gas and dust. But when you view them using infrared, you get a different picture."

The infrared images reveal that the Pillars of Creation do not contain a lot of material and that the star formation occurring inside them is coming to an end. The only place where stars are being born is at the very tips of the pillars. The nebula was influenced by a cluster of very bright type O stars nearby. The cluster initiated star formation in the Eagle nebula while destroying it at the same time. The O stars, much larger and far more luminous than our Sun, would've quickly formed when the nebula was young. Although such stars burn for only a few million years at most, their influence on the development of the nebula has been profound.

Radiation and stellar winds from the O star cluster had stripped the nebula of much of its material. However, in some very dense regions of the nebula, ejected matter from the cluster compressed together, triggering a burst of star formation.

"The optical picture alone is very confusing," Professor Thompson told BBC News Online. "You need to look in the infrared to understand what is going on and what happened in the past. The next step is to use the Chandra X-ray telescope to hone in on young stars in the Eagle nebula because they radiate a lot of X-rays. That way we can take a census of what is exactly in these pillars."

The notion that "seeing is believing" often misleads people in their everyday life. In fact, what human eyes see does not necessarily represent the truth of objects' material existences, but only their manifestations in our optical spectrum, because human eyes can only sense optical light, which is just a tiny portion of the entire electromagnetic spectrum. Human eyes cannot sense electromagnetic waves in shorter wavelength regions, such as ultraviolet light, x-rays, gamma-rays, and those in longer wavelength regions, such as infrared, radio waves, and other micro-particles. Scientists clearly know about this; consequently, they've devoted themselves to inventing instruments to extend the observational capabilities of human eyes. For example, as we watch the dark and quiet sky in the evening, we may not be able to see any marvelous things. But, using instruments able to detect ultraviolet light, x-rays, and gamma-rays, scientists discovered tremendous changes in our universe such as frequent supernovas, galactic collisions and gamma-ray bursts. The quiet sky is actually hiding many spectacular changes. Nonetheless, via modern scientific apparatus, we can now see electromagnetic waves beyond the optical spectrum and some micro-particles. There are still lots of matter that can't be detected by modern scientific apparatus, and scientists call this undetected matter "dark matter". It's estimated that the amount of "dark matter" comprises about 87% of the total mass of our universe. Many things currently cannot be observed and publicly known, such as the Primordial Spirit or other dimensions that the cultivation community has revealed. These matters will quite possibly become common knowledge, as many concepts in our society will fundamentally change.


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