Monday 5 December 2016

Picture Post #19 The Pillars of Creation

'Because things don’t appear to be the known thing; they aren’t what they seemed to be neither will they become what they might appear to become.'

Posted by Keith Tidman

Picture Credit: Hubble Space Telescope (NASA)

A dynamically ‘living universe’ with its own DNA captured by the Hubble space telescope. The image opens a window onto the cosmos, to wistfully wonder about reality.
Among the iconic images of space captured by the Hubble space telescope is this Eagle Nebula’s ‘Pillars of Creation’—revealing the majesty and immensity of space. The image opens a window onto the cosmos, for us to wistfully wonder about the what, how, and (especially) why of reality.

The image shows the pillars’ cosmic dust clouds, referred to as ‘elephant trunks’—revealing a universe that, like our species, undergoes evolution. One thought that intrudes is whether such an immense universe is shared by other ‘gifted’ species, scattered throughout. By extension, Hubble’s images make one wonder whether our universe is unique, or one of many—undergoing the ‘creative destruction’ of these pillars.

Does the image evoke a sense of relative peace—like our own speck in our galaxy’s outer spirals? Or a universe more typically characterised by the distantly familiar roiling, boiling violence—expressing itself in the paradoxical simultaneity of creation and destruction?

The ‘Pillars of Creation’ are—were—some 7,000 light-years away! They may even no longer exist; due to the time that light takes to get to Hubble. An ironic twist of fate, given the name. The ‘shape’ of the universe’s content is thus transitory – like our own bodies, as time elapses and we react to the environment.

For some, the ‘Pillars of Creation’—their church-like spires—inspire thoughts of divine creation. Alternatively, evidence suggests our universe rests in science. Where ‘nothingness’ isn’t possible and ‘something’—a universe—is the default.


Louis P Solomon said...

I like the picture very much. I am now musing about how it will (or has) affected my views on a variety of least a little.

Thanks for letting us see it.

Keith said...

A few more morsels to, perhaps, further feed those ‘musings’ you refer to, Louis . . .

In 1990, Voyager 1 was instructed to turn around and look over its shoulder and capture one last peek at the distant Earth—its home planet—some 6 billion kilometers away. The resulting image shows Earth as a fraction of a pixel in what appears to be a sunbeam, the so-called ‘pale blue dot’. (You can access the NASA/JPL-Caltech Voyager image by going to, where Earth is the white point of light about halfway down, toward the right.) The distant, barely seen speck makes for a curious counterpoint to the massiveness of the Pillars of Creation, the latter dubbed a ‘nursery’ of stars, some several times the size of our sun. Carl Sagan, in his 1994 book “Pale Blue Dot,” which was inspired by the Voyager image, offered words to heed: Everyone “in the history of our species [has] lived there—on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam. . . . There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world.” Sagan went on to urge our species to “preserve and cherish” our planet.

docmartincohen said...

It certainly is an 'iconic' image, isn't it? And as Louis says, gives pause to our thoughts - what does it all signify, what does it all mean?

For myself, astonishing and fine though it is, I find the image somehow unattractive, lacking some of the symmetry of other classic space images. Perhaps that is why it seems to have that 'rganic' flavor - the untidiness of life?

Keith said...

The ‘pillars of creation’ are sometimes referred to as a ‘stellar nursery’—new stars emerging from the cosmic gas and dust clouds, and in some cases also dying. Devotedly engaged in their birthing duties, the pillars indeed seem to exhibit the ‘untidiness’ and ‘lack of symmetry’ you refer to. Engagingly roiling, I would safely say, rather than restful. But not all is lost: there are, as you allude to, plenty of symmetries in the universe. One wonders, however, about the possible cosmological expiration date—given the universe’s increasingly hurried expansion and the arrow of time—and the awkward role ‘entropy’ might play in the meantime. Might things get a whole lot messier?

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