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News Release Archive:

News Release 37 of 88

November 6, 2003 09:00 AM (EST)

News Release Number: STScI-2003-31

Hubble Photographs Turbulent Neighborhood Near Eruptive Star

A Hubble Heritage Release

November 6, 2003: Dramatic 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, respectively.

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Q & A: Understanding the Discovery

  1. 1. Where is the Carina Nebula?


  2. 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.

  3. 2. What is the most massive star in the Carina Nebula?


  4. 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.

  5. 3. What caused the structure seen in the Carina Nebula?


  6. 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.

  7. 4. What happens to the material that is lost when a star erupts?


  8. 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.

  9. 5. What do the colors in this image represent?


  10. This color image is a composite of ultraviolet, visible, and infrared filters that have been assigned the colors blue, green, and red, respectively.

  11. 6. Has Hubble imaged any other parts of the Carina Nebula?


  12. 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.

  13. 7. How can the Hubble telescope take more than one image at a time?


  14. 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.

 
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Image Credit: NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI)

Acknowledgment: S. Casertano (STScI)