"Pillars of Creation" by NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) / Public Domain

Meet the ‘Giant Elephant Trunks,’ Mysterious Cosmic Structures 10 Times Bigger Than the ‘Pillars of Creation’

Sep 4, 2019

By Adam Mann

Ursa Major, the Tadpole Galaxy, the Crab Nebula — when it comes to naming objects in space, it sometimes seems like astronomers wish they’d gone into zoology. Continuing in this long tradition, a researcher has recently identified mammoth column-shaped structures carved from gas and dust that he has called Giant Elephant’s Trunks.

Regular-size astronomical Elephant’s Trunks are well-studied entities. When newborn stars are young, they emit colossal amounts of radiation, which can erode nearby interstellar gas and dust. Dense pockets of material are more resistant to this erosion, protecting downstream gas and dust from the radiation pressure and creating long filaments that resemble pachyderm proboscises, according to NASA.

Famous examples of such structures include the Horsehead Nebula and the Elephant’s Trunk Nebula, as well as the highly photogenic Pillars of Creation found in the Eagle Nebula. Researchers often investigate Elephant’s Trunks because they are the sites of star birth and early evolution.

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