This short blog by Jonah Lehrer in The Frontal Cortex caught my eye because it was about one of the most iconic space photos ever (despite being relatively recent), the Eagle Nebula’s “Pillars of Creation”. It certainly is a very cool picture.
Lehrer is mourning the Pillars, since recently-reported temperature data from them indicates that one of the stars inside the nebula is almost certainly going supernova, and the resultant shockwave will blow away most of the pillars (which are mostly just dust).
Or, rather, a star in the Eagle Nebula did go supernova about 8000 years ago. It takes light about 7000 years to get here from there, and it would take about 2000 years for the shockwave to expand and blow away the nebula. That’s why the light from the supernova would have shown up here on earth as a very bright star about 1000 years ago; why the Hubble was able to take pictures of the nebula 13 years ago; why we see the nebula gas heating up now; and why 1000 years from now the Eagle Nebula will disppear from our view, seven thousand years after it actually happened.
I understand Lehrer’s sadness, but I think there are plenty more surprises out there for us. Check out this link from his blog entry that outlines many of the famous Hubble images, plus summarizes some of the telescope’s history, accomplishments, and future.