THE CARINA NEBULA: STAR BIRTH IN THE EXTREME
In celebration of the 17th anniversary of the
launch and deployment of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope,
a team of astronomers is releasing one of the largest
panoramic images ever taken with Hubble's cameras.
It is a 50-light-year-wide view of the central region
of the Carina Nebula where a maelstrom of star birth
- and death - is taking place.
Hubble's view of the nebula shows star birth in
a new level of detail. The fantasy-like landscape
of the nebula is sculpted by the action of outflowing
winds and scorching ultraviolet radiation from the
monster stars that inhabit this inferno. In the
process, these stars are shredding the surrounding
material that is the last vestige of the giant cloud
from which the stars were born.
The immense nebula contains at least a dozen brilliant
stars that are roughly estimated to be at least
50 to 100 times the mass of our Sun. The most unique
and opulent inhabitant is the star Eta Carinae,
at far left. Eta Carinae is in the final stages
of its brief and eruptive lifespan, as evidenced
by two billowing lobes of gas and dust that presage
its upcoming explosion as a titanic supernova.
The fireworks in the Carina region started three
million years ago when the nebula's first generation
of newborn stars condensed and ignited in the middle
of a huge cloud of cold molecular hydrogen. Radiation
from these stars carved out an expanding bubble
of hot gas. The island-like clumps of dark clouds
scattered across the nebula are nodules of dust
and gas that are resisting being eaten away by photoionization.
The hurricane blast of stellar winds and blistering
ultraviolet radiation within the cavity is now compressing
the surrounding walls of cold hydrogen. This is
triggering a second stage of new star formation.
Our Sun and our solar system may have been born
inside such a cosmic crucible 4.6 billion years
ago. In looking at the Carina Nebula we are seeing
the genesis of star making as it commonly occurs
along the dense spiral arms of a galaxy.
The immense nebula is an estimated 7,500 light-years
away in the southern constellation Carina the Keel
(of the old southern constellation Argo Navis, the
ship of Jason and the Argonauts, from Greek mythology).
This image is a mosaic of the Carina Nebula assembled
from 48 frames taken with
Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys.
The Hubble images were taken in the light of neutral
hydrogen. Color information was added with data
taken at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory
in Chile. Red corresponds to sulfur, green to hydrogen,
and blue to oxygen emission.
Credit for Hubble image: NASA, ESA, N. Smith (University
of California, Berkeley), and The Hubble Heritage
Credit for CTIO image: N. Smith (University of California,
Berkeley) and NOAO/AURA/NSF