Hubble’s Pillars of Creation toppled

Hubble’s most famous picture target – the so-called Pillars of Creation – may have been toppled by a massive cosmic blast, say astronomers.

Spitzer's image of the nebulaThe three finger-like features in the Eagle Nebula were destroyed by a shock wave from a nearby supernova, 6,000 years ago, they believe.

But because the gas cloud lies 7,000 light years away from the Earth, it will be another 1,000 years before the destruction of the pillars becomes visible from Earth.

Their fate was revealed by another space telescope, Spitzer, using its infrared heat-seaking eye. Hubble’s classic photo, seen below, was taken in 1995.

A new, striking image from Spitzer shows the intact dust pillars below a giant red cloud of hot dust thought to have been scorched by the blast of a star that exploded.

Hubble image of the PillarsWhen the mighty pillars do crumble, gas and dust will be blown away, exposing newborn stars that were forming inside. A new generation of stars might also spring up from the dusty wreckage.

Astronomers have long predicted that a supernova blast wave would mean the end for the iconic pillars. The region is littered with 20 or so stars ripe for exploding, so it was only a matter of time, they reasoned, before one would blow up.

The explosion that caused the destructive dust cloud may already have been seen from Earth between 1,000 and 2,000 years ago.