Via CNN Space & Science:
They helped open the public’s eyes to the wonders of space when they were first photographed in 1995, but a new study suggests the famous Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula might have already been toppled long ago, and that what the Hubble Space Telescope actually captured was only a ghost image.A new picture of the Eagle Nebula shot by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, presented at the 209th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle, Washington, show the intact pillars next to a giant cloud of glowing dust scorched by the heat of a massive stellar explosion known as a supernova.
“The pillars have already been destroyed by the shockwave,” said study leader Nicolas Flagey of The Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale in France.
Astronomers think the supernova’s shock wave knocked the pillars down about 6,000 years ago. But because the Eagle Nebula is located some 7,000 light years away, the majestic pillars will appear intact to observers on Earth for another 1,000 years or so.
The supernova blast is thought to have occurred between 6,000 and 9,000 years ago, so what astronomers see now is evidence of the blast just before its destructive shock wave reached the pillars.
Just when you think something is stable enough to trust in, a damn supernova comes and blows it away… [sarcasm].