The Civil Wars - My Father’s Father
The Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula
In 1995, the world was astonished by the image of a group of 4-light-year-tall columns located in the Eagle Nebula, 7,000 light years from here. They’re star forming regions, which is why they were given the name Pillars of Creation. All those red sparkles you see are bright, hot young A and B (blue giant) stars. They look red because the hydrogen gas in the nebula is heated up by the stars, emitting the reddish glow.
The only problem is that the pillars didn’t really exist. Something had destroyed them more than a thousand years ago.
It’s a natural thought. Limited by our understanding of time, we look at objects in space as if they were mountains or the ocean. We genuinely perceive these stellar landscapes as something that is up there fixed, secure, rooted in our reality, the solid foundation of our existence. Some people see the work of gods in all this seemingly immutable show, hence the fantastic name they got. Others just see a cosmic movie set for our humanity’s drama.
But our diminutive perception of time, the same that makes us think we are the center of everything, is just an illusion. At the cosmic scale, just like in our individual lives, things move constantly. The architecture of the cosmos is ever changing and scientists know—since 2007, only a few years after they were observed—that these gargantuan structures don’t exist anymore.
They were destroyed, blasted by a supernova that happened 6,000 years ago. With our telescopes, we can see the supernova advancing, unstoppable, destroying everything it touches. From that same vantage point, the shockwave has not reached the Pillars of Creation yet. For our senses, they are still there.
In one thousand years, there will be a hell of a show. The shockwave will arrive to the Pillars of Creation and, just like they were created, they will be destroyed once again, obliterated by the force of a dead star. Except that the show really happened a very long time ago.
The explanation for this is simple: since the light has to travel a very vast distance, it will arrive after the event has occured. So the further away something happens, the longer it takes to reach our eyes.
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This artist’s impression shows a binary system containing a stellar-mass black hole called IGR J17091-3624, or IGR J17091 for short. The strong gravity of the black hole, on the left, is pulling gas away from a companion star on the right. This gas forms a disk of hot gas around the black hole, and the wind is driven off this disk.Image Credit: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss
New observations with NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory clocked the fastest wind ever seen blowing off a disk around this stellar-mass black hole. Stellar-mass black holes are born when extremely massive stars collapse and typically weigh between five and 10 times the mass of the Sun.
The record-breaking wind is moving about twenty million miles per hour, or about three percent the speed of light. This is nearly ten times faster than had ever been seen from a stellar-mass black hole, and matches some of the fastest winds generated by supermassive black holes, objects millions or billions of times more massive.
Another unanticipated finding is that the wind, which comes from a disk of gas surrounding the black hole, may be carrying away much more material than the black hole is capturing.
The high speed for the wind was estimated from a spectrum made by Chandra in 2011. A spectrum shows how intense the X-rays are at different energies. Ions emit and absorb distinct features in spectra, which allow scientists to monitor them and their behavior. A Chandra spectrum of iron ions made two months earlier showed no evidence of the high-speed wind, meaning the wind likely turns on and off over time.