By time you see a pillar at all, almost all of your ‘formation’ is already finished.
In the heart of the Eagle Nebula, the iconic Pillars of Creation loom as one of Hubble’s greatest all-time sights.
But very little is still being created in there, compared to the destruction that’s taking place.
It’s true: there are new stars being formed inside, as the gas gravitational collapses down to grow the largest clumps of matter.
But the reason you have a pillar shape at all is because of nearby, bright, external stars, which boil the gas away.
Wherever you find a pillar-like shape, what you’re seeing is a dense region of light-blocking gas and dust.
But pillars also absorb and reflect the light external to them, which is an important (and often overlooked) component.
Surrounding dying stars and nearby newly-formed stars, these dense clumps of matter are the last remnants of neutral gas.
External ultraviolet radiation causes these clumps to ionize and evaporate, eventually leading to their expulsion.
Scientifically, we call these knots of neutral matter EGGs: Evaporating Gaseous Globules.
There may be proto-stars inside, but they’re running out of time.
In the cosmic race between gravitation and evaporation, the latter is faster.
New stars may form, but 99% of star creation has already completed.
Mostly Mute Monday tells the astronomical story of a scientific object, class, or phenomenon in images, visuals, and no more than 200 words. Talk less; smile more.Ethan Siegel is the author of Beyond the Galaxy and Treknology. You can pre-order his third book, currently in development: the Encyclopaedia Cosmologica.