Deathwatch for a Star

etacarinae_hst_960Eta Carinae may be about to explode. We’re not sure when—it might be next year, it might be one million years from now. The star’s mass of roughly 100 times our Sun’s makes it an excellent candidate for a full blown supernova, and about 150 years ago, Eta Carinae underwent an unusual outburst becoming one of the brightest stars in the southern sky. Eta Carinae is also the only star currently known to be emitting light from a natural laser. This Hubble image brings out details in the unusual nebula that surrounds this rogue star—two distinct lobes, a hot central region, and strange radial streaks. The lobes are filled with lanes of gas and dust which absorb the blue and ultraviolet light emitted near the center. The streaks remain unexplained.

Eta Carinae is in the constellation Carina. Carina is Latin for the keel of a ship, and it was formerly part of the larger constellation of Argo Navis (the ship Argo) until that constellation was divided into three pieces, the other two being Puppis (the poop deck), and Vela (the sails of the ship).

Image Credit: NASA

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