Thousands of light years from Earth, radiation from bright young stars is causing pillars to grow light years in length from a cloud of dust and gas, the Eagle Nebula. Stars and planets, including the Sun and Earth, form out of such clouds. Thus, if we understand how those distant pillars form, we may find hints about our own origins.

To study the pillars, we use a variety of modern tools here on Earth. Instruments like the Hubble Space Telescope allow us to determine the structure of the pillars. Although the pillars are hundreds of thousands of year old, we can use computers to simulate their growth in a few hours. Using the world's largest lasers to mimic stars, we can grow miniature pillars in the laboratory in a few billionths of a second. Thus, we can test our theories of the pillars on our desktops and in our laboratories.

The people doing this work together include physicists, astronomers and computer scientists. They are awed and inspired by what Hubble shows us. They are excited and humbled by the prospect of using advanced technology to recreate celestial objects in the laboratory. They want to discover how the universe works at the smallest and largest scales, and believe that the quest for such basic information is essential to society.

Today you will learn

  • What is Newton's 3rd Law?
  • Where does the energy come from that is "pushing" the Eagle Nebula?
  • Which direction is the energy pushing the nebula?
  • What are two ways that scientists can study what goes on in the Eagle nebula?
  • What can the study of the Eagle Nebula tell us about our own Solar system?
  • Career Paths


The goal of today's presentation is to see how scientists can use many different tools to explore mysteries in the universe, and perhaps to find hints about our own solar system's origins.

Speaker Bios

Bruce Remmington

Currently the Group Leader for Hydrodynamics, Inertial Confinement Fusion (ICF) Program, LLNL: Initiate, lead, and manage experiments in hydrodynamics related to high energy density physics, solid state physics at extreme pressures and strain rates, evolution to turbulence, and astrophysics.

Dr. Jave Kane

Jave Kane received the B.Sc. and M.Sc degrees in computing science from Simon Fraser University, and a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Arizona. Presently, he is a staff scientist in the Physics and Advance Technologies Directorate at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. He is currently working on the design of laser experiments to detect melt transitions in shocked samples, and is also working on the hydrodynamics of the Eagle Nebula. His previous research includes theory related to network design, and the development of laser experiments to study hydrodynamics relevant to supernova.

Dr. Sarah Palmer

Sarah Palmer is teacher Environmental Science and Technology for the Tri-Valley ROP (Regional Occupational Programs) at Foothill and Livermore High Schools. Dr. Sarah Palmer is currently teaching Environmental Science and Technology for the Tri-Valley ROP (Regional Occupational Programs) at Foothill and Livermore High Schools.

She holds a B.A. degree in Biology and Political Science from New York University and a Ph.D. in cell physiology and biochemistry from University of Toronto. In her career she has worked as a data technician at Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA and completed a post-doctoral research appointment at the Cancer Research Laboratory at UC Berkeley. Dr. Palmer worked as a Research and Development/Sales and Marketing liaison for a medical diagnostics firm, and taught biology, developmental biology, botany, zoology, ecology, immunology, physiology, and evolution at: UC Berkeley, CSU Hayward, Mills College, Holy Names College, and Las Positas College. She has also been a coordinator for the American Chemical Society's U. S. National Chemistry Olympiad for the past 5 years and help coordinate the Environmental Pathway for Foothill High School. Her hobbies are scuba diving and bicycling and her favorite job is being a mom.


  • General Terms
  • physics: study of matter and energy
  • astrophysics: study of the physics of stars, planets and other astronomical objects
  • model: a proposed explanation for how something works.
  • fluid: material that flows, like water or air
  • gas: a low density fluid, like air
  • accelerate: to change velocity over a period of time (for the physics students, remember that velocity includes both speed AND direction)
  • (computer) simulation: a computer program that mocks up a real situation in a simple way, to predict what will really happen or what really did happen.
  • radiation: energy emitted in the form of waves (such as the electromagnetic spectrum) or particles (such as photons). This energy is usually emitted by an object, such as a star.
  • electromagnetic spectrum: a broad range of energy which is measured in wavelengths. It includes radio waves, visible light, ultraviolet light, x-rays and gamma rays. The shorter the wavelength, the more energetic the radiation energy.
  • Ultraviolet (U.V.) light: a type of light energy (invisible to the human eye and more energetic than visable light); produced by stars
  • x-rays: a type of light energy (invisible to the human eye and more energetic than U.V.); produced in laser experiments and stars
  • Fluid Terms
  • hydrodynamics: theory of how fluids move; can be used in computer simulations
  • density: amount of mass per volume, eg. 1 kilogram per liter
  • tenuous: having low density
  • vacuum: the absence of matter. In hydrodynamic models, it is treated as a very low density fluid.
  • compressible fluid: a fluid that can be squished to a higher density. Water can’t be compressed, while gas can be compressed.
  • bubble: a piece of light fluid rising in a denser fluid
  • Rayleigh-Taylor model: theory of what happens when a light fluid tries to support a dense fluid against gravity (and can’t)
  • Rocket Terms
  • Newton's 3rd law: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, eg. when rocket thrust goes one way, the rocket goes the opposite way
  • rocket exhaust: the material leaving a rocket and accelerating the rocket
  • photoevaporation: material boiling off because it absorbs light energy and heats up
  • rocket effect: rocket-like acceleration of object when material boils off
  • Astrophysics Terms
  • dust: (in astrophysics) very fine grains about like the particles in smoke. Found in molecular clouds.
  • molecular cloud: (nebula) cloud of gas and dust in galaxies; stars form here
  • Eagle Nebula: molecular cloud in our galaxy that has large pillars easily seen from Earth
  • The Pillars (of Creation): the large pillars in the Eagle Nebula
  • Big Bang: the theoretical idea of a large explosion or event that started the universe and the expansion of which is still going on
  • galaxy: a large collection of stars, usually at least a few billion
  • spiral galaxy: a galaxy that looks a pinwheel from above, with a core and spiral arms, like ours (the Milky Way)
  • light year: the distance that light travels in a year (6 million million miles) (or 6 X 1012 miles also known as 9.5 X 1012 kilometers)
  • gravity: a force of attraction all masses exert on each other (on Earth, it’s 9.81 meters/sec per second)
  • free-fall: falling freely only under the influence of apparent gravity with no friction ie. accelerating
  • comet: object (usually made up of ice, gas, and lots of dirty bits) with long tails of material driven off by starlight
  • Hubble Space Telescope: a powerful telescope orbiting the Earth
  • BIMA: the Berkeley-Illinois-Maryland Array; a group (array) of radio telescopes in Hat Creek, California
  • Laser Terms
  • laser: device that produces intense beams of light energy with a narrow spectrum and very little spreading out as you move away from the source (for those of you who love acronyms, it stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation)
  • laser fusion: producing nuclear energy by imploding a fuel capsule, using a large laser
  • hohlraum: a tiny gold can used in laser experiments to produce x-rays
  • laser target: the object heated by laser beams in a laser experiment
  • implode: opposite of explode; to collapse or be crushed inward to smaller size, and higher density, pressure and temperature
  • Omega laser: the world’s largest laser
  • NIF: (National Ignition Facility) will be the world’s largest laser