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Pillars of destruction

Speed read
  • Stunning stellar images from the Very Large Telescope at Paranal observatory in Chile
  • Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) allows comprehensive view of space objects  
  • 400 million pixels processed in real time

From creation comes destruction.

That’s evident from newly released European Southern Observatory (ESO) images of the Carina nebula, a star formation 7,500 light-years away from Earth.

<strong>Following the muse. </strong> Using the Muse spectrograph tool on the Yepun telescope (one of the four in the Very Large Telescope array), astrophysicists have made some amazing observations of the Carina nebula. Courtesy ESO.

In a contrast to the 'Pillars of Creation' in the Eagle nebula image of a star being born, the Carina nebula has been coined the ‘Pillars of Destruction’ because it is an image of a decaying star.

According to the ESO website, one of the first consequences of the formation of a massive star is that it “starts to destroy the cloud from which it is born.”

This occurs because stars release ionizing radiation. This radiation, in turn, creates a process called photoevaporation that ionizes gas in space. As a result, ESO researchers conclude, “there was a clear correlation between the amount of ionizing radiation being emitted by nearby stars, and the dissipation of the pillars.”

ESO also notes it is still difficult to gather evidence between stars and their surroundings, so more research may be necessary to examine the link between creation and destruction that’s present in the photograph.

To view these so-called ‘Pillars of Destruction,’ researchers used the Very Large Telescope (VLT) array at the Paranal Observatory in Chile.  VLT consists of four telescopes, Antu, Kueyen, Melipal, and Yepun.

<strong>Creative destruction. </strong> A composite image highlights several pillars within the Carina nebula. The massive stars within the star formation region slowly destroy the pillars of dust and gas from which they are born, and have thus been dubbed the 'Pillars of Destruction.' Courtesy ESO.

To snap a picture of the pillars, scientists used Yepun, a telescope specially equipped with the Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE). MUSE is an integral field spectrograph (IFS), a tool that gives astrophysicists the ability to see the astronomical object in its entirety, and measure the intensity of the light as a function of its color for each pixel of the image.

Each image is segmented for analysis, totaling upwards of 400 million pixels that ESO has to process in real time. This represents a tremendous computational challenge for the astronomers.

But there’s no challenge for the rest of us: We get to sit back and marvel at these pillars.

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