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Space NASA Science

Pillars of Creation Destroyed 364

anthemaniac writes with news about the Pillars of Creation, an iconic structure in the Eagle Nebula some 7,000 light-years distant. The Hubble Space Telescope's image of this structure is one of the most widely recognized astronomy images ever captured. Now a new image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope suggests that the pillars probably toppled 6,000 years ago. From the article: "Astronomers think [a] supernova's shock wave knocked the pillars down about 6,000 years ago. But because light from that region of the sky takes 7,000 years to reach us, the majestic pillars will appear intact to observers on Earth for another 1,000 years or so.'"
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Pillars of Creation Destroyed

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  • by Jerf ( 17166 ) on Tuesday January 09, 2007 @10:28PM (#17533872) Journal
    There is no such thing as "instantaneously".
  • by grub ( 11606 ) <> on Tuesday January 09, 2007 @10:31PM (#17533892) Homepage Journal

    I wonder if [...] anyone alive then will ever know what they looked like today?

    Sure, they'll Google "pillars of creation" on their IPv1024-connected computers.
  • by Trogre ( 513942 ) on Tuesday January 09, 2007 @10:45PM (#17534012) Homepage
    Sorry but that is a rather silly claim.

    If the data is correct, then it already has happened. I realise that some poor 100-level physics/relativity courses try to push the idea that events outside the "light cone" (as you like to call it) haven't happened yet but that's baloney. The event has occurred and the pillars are destroyed, light cone or no light cone. We just haven't seen it yet.

    They are ex-pillars.

    They have ceased to be.

  • Re:Ah ha! (Score:5, Informative)

    by UbuntuDupe ( 970646 ) * on Tuesday January 09, 2007 @11:18PM (#17534254) Journal
    The earth is actually older than 6,000 years.

    *please mod informative, please mod informative*
  • by tylersoze ( 789256 ) on Tuesday January 09, 2007 @11:23PM (#17534306)
    The above poster is correct, in physics parlance, observers will not agree on the temporal ordering of events separated by a space-like interval (outside the light cone, i.e. the two events can't affect each other because you'd have to travel faster than light to connect them), conversely, they will always agree on the temporal ordering ordering of events separated by a time-like interval (inside the light cone, slower than light). This why the concept of information being transmitted faster than light automatically introduces causality issues, because different observers will disagree of what caused what.

    So someone zipping by the Earth at a good percentage of the speed of light away from the Eagle Nebula will say that the collapse hasn't happened yet, although presumably if we were both good scientists, we'd agree that the event exists in the space-time continuum and understand why we disagree. :) This is the key to resolution of the so-called "Twin Paradox" as well. As soon as one of the twins turns around his line of simultaneity changes, and what his idea of "right now" changes. The key is that there's never really any "paradox", observers will always agree once they go to "meet each other" at the same point in the same reference frame. The universe doesn't always play by our common sense notions, some concepts like what "right now" means for widely separated events, for instance, may not be meaningful or need to be reinterpreted.
  • by tylersoze ( 789256 ) on Tuesday January 09, 2007 @11:41PM (#17534450)
    Yeah they are extrapolating that the shock wave collapsed the pillars. Note the fact it takes the light a finite amount of time to reach us doesn't actually enter into it. We know how far away the nebula is, so once the light reaches us we know when the event "really" occurred. However, here's where it gets fun, to an observer moving at a good portion of that speed of light relative to us, the time and the distance he measures to the Eagle Nebula is *completely different*, but thanks to the magic of Relativity the speed of light is the same for everybody, so he calculates that a different amount of time it took the light to reach him and thus occurred a different point in time. His result is just as valid as ours.

    I'd suggest the excellent "Geometry, Relativity, and the 4th Dimension" by Rudy Rucker. I read it as a kid, and it got me hooked on Relativity. He makes it really easy to visual all this stuff by drawing simple space-time diagrams. Also my old Physics professor, William G Harter, has a really good Relativity visualization program called RelativIt.
  • by pln2bz ( 449850 ) * on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @12:03AM (#17534642)
    It's actually made of plasma in the glow discharge state. That's the same state of plasma that you see within a neon sign. Plasma can also exist in the arc state, which is like an arc welder (very bright) and in a dark state, which you cannot see (like the electricity that flows through your lamp cord; notice the cord does not brighten). It's resistivity changes throughout these modes depending upon the current density. Plasma is the fourth more common state of matter next to gas, solid and liquid. Thing is, 99%+ of the universe's matter is in the plasma state, which makes it a pretty big deal to understand it. You'd think, in fact, that our theories about how the universe operated would be based upon how plasma acts to a great extent, but astrophysicists have oddly convinced themselves that accurately modeling the properties of plasma is not all that important to understanding the universe.

    Since astrophysicists like to incorrectly model plasma as a *fluid* (magnetohydrodynamics), they tend to just vaguely call it "gas and dust" even though it is by definition filled with charged particles like ions and electrons. As you may know, ions and electrons can carry electricity, which makes plasma a very special type of matter. The electricity that flows through plasma can affect its shape, and vice-versa. So, its electrical and mechanical energies are interdependent, and this makes it very complicated. If you've ever seen a novelty plasma globe at Spencer's in the mall, the first thing that probably came to your mind was not ... hey, it's fluid! Unfortunately, for the past several decades, astrophysicists have been refusing to admit that plasma can transfer electricity and it's led to all sorts of weird results within astronomy like black holes, neutron stars, dark matter, dark energy, the Big Bang Theory, etc.

    This whole article is actually complete bullshit because contrary to what it states, supernovae are likely electrical phenomenon as well. We've imaged many remnants of supernovae (like 1987A) that are bipolar symmetric like an hourglass. This isn't anything like what astrophysicists told us that they should be -- a spherical shell of expanding gas. In fact, it corresponds better to something called Birkeland Currents, which is a plasma physics term that astrophysicists aren't very familiar with. The supernova can become extremely energetic because it is the confluence point for energy arriving from foreign energy sources in the same way that energy created at your power plant ends up being used at your house.

    Of course, this isn't the *standard* view and I'm sure that there are people who would consider me to be heretical, or at least misleading you. But so long as the filaments within a novelty plasma globe do not appear to you to act like the water in a similarly shaped fishbowl, then you should not buy much into the rest of astronomy either because this single assumption is so devastating to all of the calculations that are done for the universe that the end result is pretty much garbage. We know enough about space to get probes out to the planets, but that's pretty much it these days. Very few of the pretty pictures we see through our amazing telescopes were actually expected by the theories that we've been pursuing for the past few decades. The scientists spend a bunch of time, in fact, trying to figure out ways to create those pictures *without* electricity because it's considered more appropriate for some strange reason to invent mysterious matters than to assume that electricity can flow over plasma in space (which we can do in the laboratory). You'd never know any of this from the public relations releases though for space articles because people tend to believe whatever it is they are told when it comes to space stuff and there are no "investigative journalists" asking the tough questions in the space industry.

    We live in a very strange world. Our reality is basically what we tell ourselves that it is and will continue to be so until a day whe
  • by Jerf ( 17166 ) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @01:41AM (#17535376) Journal
    Go learn about relativity [].
  • by insecuritiez ( 606865 ) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @02:11AM (#17535558)
    Unfortunately the universe doesn't work like that. It's easy as a human being to imagine being at the supernova event in the Eagle Nebula and then back at Earth instantaneously, outrunning the light that will take 6000 years to reach Earth. The order of events (or even their simultaneity) is based on frame of reference.

    The parent poster is incorrect about the supernova not happening yet in our frame of reference though. In our frame of reference, it happened between 1000 and 2000 years ago. It is the shockwave that hasn't yet reached the pillars in our frame of reference.
  • Re:Ah ha! (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @05:44AM (#17536720)

    I think that quote is from James Randi.
    * Atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby.
    o Swift, 13 January 2006.
    o This quote is often attributed to Randi. While he quoted it with approval in Swift, the
    coinage is of an "anonymous reader".
    From Wikipedia
  • Re:Ah ha! (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @10:16AM (#17538726)

    It does, however, admit that the Earth itself is of unknown age. For all we know Adam & Eve (and any kids they may have had prior to the Fall of Man, which is possible Biblically) could have lived in the Garden of Eden for millennia or just a few days. Fact of the matter is, we don't know the true age, but we do know that it has been roughly 6,000 years since Adam & Eve were kicked out of the Garden of Eden.

    The Earth has a known age. Science has proven it over and over. Adam and Eve, Garden of Eden, Apples, etc. have no basis in fact. There isn't a historical record to prove it other than religious texts. Heck, there's no mention of a Jesus until decades after his death and the stories in the Bible became popular. The Romans make no mention of him and they were meticulous record keepers. It's quite telling that you can find tax information on a Roman shopkeeper from the period but not a shred of text on a supposed son-of-a-superbeing walking the planet.

    Can you present us with any evidence of Adam and Eve being kicked out of a magical garden 6,000 years ago?

If I had only known, I would have been a locksmith. -- Albert Einstein