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Magnetic Fields Detected In 'Pillars Of Creation' Shed Light On How Stars Form

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Subtle magnetic fields were discovered in the Pillars of Creation, a structure of cosmic dust and gas that form part of the Eagle Nebula. What does the discovery tell about star formation?
  ( NASA, ESA/Hubble and the Hubble Heritage Team )

Scientists have detected new magnetic fields in space. The discovery helps shed light on how stars form. It also unveils the mysteries behind a famous celestial image, the Pillars of Creation.

Hubble's Iconic Pillars Of Creation

The Pillars of Creature is an iconic image captured by the Hubble Space Telescope in April 1995. It is rated as one of the top 10 photos taken by the telescope.

It depicts a structure consisting of cosmic dust and gas located about 7,000 light years away from Earth, sitting at the Eagle Nebula, also known as M16, a region where stars are born.

"The pillars are bathed in the scorching ultraviolet light from a cluster of young stars," NASA described the structure in Hubble's iconic image. "The winds from these stars are slowly eroding the towers of gas and dust.

Magnetic Fields In The Pillars Of Creations

Astronomers now report that they have discovered and mapped extremely subtle magnetic fields in the Pillars of Creation for the first time.

Researchers made the discovery using an instrument on the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii called polarimeter, which revealed that the light emitted from the Pillars is polarized, which indicate the direction of magnetic field.

The researchers discovered that the magnetic fields running along the lengths of the Pillars are at a different angle to the regions that surround the Pillars, which helps explain their unusual structure.

"The fact that we have been able to observe the incredibly weak magnetic field with this sensitive instrument will help us to solve the mystery of the formation of stars," said Derek Ward-Thompson, from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).

Magnetic Fields Influence Evolution Of The Pillars

The discovery suggests that the Pillars have evolved because of the strength of the magnetic fields. The pillars are also held up because of magnetic support.

The findings suggest that stars could be formed by the collapse of clumps of gas that are being slowed down by magnetic fields, which can result in a pillar-like formation.

"Magnetic field may be slowing the pillars' evolution into cometary globules," the researchers wrote in their study, which was published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

"The evolution and lifetime of the Pillars may be strongly influenced by the strength of the coupling of their magnetic field to that of their parent photoionized cloud -- i.e. that the Pillars' longevity results from magnetic support."

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