Hubble Photographs the
Near the Eruptive Star - Eta Carina
dark dust knots and complex structures are sculpted
by the high-velocity stellar winds and high-energy
radiation from the ultra-luminous variable star
called Eta Carinae. This image shows a region in
the Carina Nebula between two large clusters of
some of the most massive and hottest known stars.
This NASA Hubble Space Telescope close-up view shows
only a three light-year-wide portion of the entire
Carina Nebula, which has a diameter of over 200
light-years. Taken with Hubble's Wide Field Planetary
Camera 2 in July 2002, this color image is a composite
of ultraviolet, visible, and infrared filters that
have been assigned the colors blue, green, and red,
Image Credit: NASA and The Hubble
Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Where is the Carina Nebula?
The Carina Nebula, a naked-eye feature of the Southern
Hemisphere portion of the Milky Way, resides at
a distance of 8,000 light-years. The nebula has
a diameter of over 200 light-years. This close-up
view is only a three light-year-wide portion of
the entire nebula.
What is the most massive star in the Carina
The Carina Nebula contains the famous explosive
variable star Eta Carinae, or Eta Car. It contains
as much mass as 100 suns, and puts out more energy
each second than 1 million suns. Eta Car was one
of the brightest stars in the sky for southern observers
in the 1800s, but it has since faded. It may continue
to experience future outbursts, which may increase
its brightness again at some point.
What caused the structure seen
in the Carina Nebula?
The filamentary structure visible in
images of the Carina Nebula is caused
by turbulence in the circumstellar gas,
which in turn was caused by several
stars shedding their outer layers. Cold
gas mixes with hot gas, leaving a veil
of denser, opaque material in the foreground.
Dramatic dark dust knots and complex
features are sculpted by the high-velocity
stellar winds and high-energy radiation
from massive and energetic stars in
the nebula, such as Eta Car.
shows the Carina Nebula, combining the
light from 3 different filters tracing
emission from oxygen (blue), hydrogen
(green), and sulfur (red). The color is
also representative of the temperature
in the ionized gas: blue is relatively
hot and red is cooler. This image was
taken at the Curtis Schmidt telescope
at the Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory
(CTIO) in Chile. Visit the NOAO image
gallery for more file
Image Credit: N. Smith, University of
What happens to the material that is lost
when a star erupts?
When massive stars like Eta Car shed their outer
layers, the chemical elements in the surrounding
area create a potential reservoir for new star formation.
Many elephant-trunk shaped dust clouds are visible
throughout the Carina Nebula. These clouds may form
into embryonic solar systems.
CTIO Carina Nebula image courtesy of
N. Walborn (STScI).
Has Hubble imaged any other
parts of the Carina Nebula?
A Hubble image of the Keyhole Nebula,
also part of the Carina Nebula, was
taken in 1999. It shows similar structure,
bright and dark features, and is a direct
result of massive stars, such as Eta
Car, interacting with their surroundings.
The filters used to image the Keyhole
Nebula were ultraviolet, visible, and
infrared, as well as the emission filters
oxygen, sulfur, and hydrogen. The Keyhole
Nebula image was released by the Hubble
Heritage Project in 2000.
mouse on image at left to view CTIO
ground-based image of the Keyhole Nebula
in the Carina Nebula. Color overlays
represent HST coverage. Click on image
What do the colors in the Heritage release
This color image is a composite of ultraviolet,
visible, and infrared filters that have been assigned
the colors blue, green, and red, respectively.
How can the Hubble telescope take more than
one image at a time?
The Hubble telescope has several instruments that
can be used simultaneously to look at slightly different
portions of the sky. As one camera onboard Hubble
takes data of an astronomical object, another detector
is able to take data of a nearby field at the same
time or "in parallel." Parallel observations
with an unused instrument during a programmed observation
from another detector is an extremely efficient
use of Hubble's capabilities and allows astronomers
to probe parts of the sky that they would not otherwise
be able to investigate.