From Manu: “Eta Carinae, the prelude to a supernova”

Manu Garcia, a friend from IAC.

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In the early nineteenth century, the binary star system Eta Carinae was weak and undistinguished. In the first decades it became increasingly brighter until April 1843 was the second brightest star in the sky, just behind Sirius (nearly a thousand times closer to Earth). In the years that followed, gradually he eased again in the twentieth century and was completely invisible to the naked eye. Star varying in brightness has continued since then and while once again visible to the naked eye on a dark night has never come close to its peak of 1843.

The star system Eta Carinae is a binary system is composed of two stars, the larger of the two stars is a huge and unstable star nearing the end of his life and the events observed by the astronomers of the nineteenth century was a stellar experience near death. Scientists call these outbursts supernova impostor events that appear similar to supernovae but stop just in time to destroy the star.

Although nineteenth – century astronomers did not have telescopes powerful enough to see the outbreak of 1843 in detail, its effects can be studied today. Huge clouds of matter thrown a century and a half ago, known as the Nebula Homúncula have been a regular target for Hubble since its launch in 1990. This image, taken with the Advanced Camera for Surveys High Resolution Channel is the most detailed , however, it shows us how the star material was not ejected in a uniform manner but held as a huge dumbbell.

Eta Carinae is not only interesting for its past, but also for its future. It is one of the closest stars to Earth is likely to explode in a supernova in the relatively near future (though in astronomical timescales the “near future” could still be a million years). When you do, wait a breathtaking view from Earth, visible only from the southern hemisphere, much brighter even than the latest outbreak observed SN 2006gy , the brightest supernova ever observed coming from a star of the same type.

This image consists of visible and ultraviolet images of high resolution channel of Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys light. The field of view is about 30 arcseconds. Eta Carinae is located at a distance of 7,500 light-years away in the constellation Carina.

ESA / Hubble and NASA

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