Subscribe free to our newsletters via your
. 24/7 Space News .

Revealing The Explosive Heart Of Eta Carinae
by Staff Writers
Hilo HI (SPX) Jan 05, 2010

Eta Carinae as imaged by the Gemini South telescope in Chile with the Near Infrared Coronagraphic Imager (NICI) using adaptive optics to reduce blurring by turbulence in the Earth's atmosphere. In this image the bipolar lobes of the Homunculus Nebula are visible with the never-before imaged "Little Homunculus Nebula" visible as a faint blue glow, mostly in the lower lobe. The Butterfly Nebula is visible (region circled) as the yellowish glow with dark filamentary structure close to, and mostly below/left, of the central star system (the central star system appears as a dark spot due to the coronagraphic blocking (occulting) disk used to eliminate the star's bright glare). This image is a color composite using three infrared filters: [Fe II] (1.644 micron) - blue layer; H2 2-1 S(1) (2.2465 micron) - green layer; Br(gamma) (2.1686 micron) - red layer. The field of view for the image is 16.0 x 15.4 arcseconds and is oriented with north up and east to the left. Credit: J. C. Martin et. al., Gemini Observatory/AURA

Using adaptive optics to remove atmospheric blurring, Gemini Observatory has released an image showing previously hidden forensic secrets at the ballistic core of the Homunculus Nebula, part of the explosive Eta Carinae star system.

The infrared image, revealed at the 215th American Astronomical Society meeting in Washington, DC, is a high-resolution view of the complex tendrils and puffs of glowing gas and dust surrounding the violent and convulsive death of an exceptionally massive, short-lived star.

The compelling modern history of Eta Carinae began in April 1843 when the system underwent a huge 20-year outburst that, throughout some of that period, made it the sky's second brightest stellar object. During the "Great Eruption" astronomers estimate that about 20 times the mass of our Sun was ejected into interstellar space.

Astronomers study this relatively nearby stellar oddity to help understand the late evolution of massive stars - a messy process involving outflows, eruptions, strong magnetic fields, and powerful jets.

The result of this activity is reflected in the new Gemini image presented by John Martin of the University of Illinois Springfield who, along with an international team of researchers, obtained their data using the Near-Infrared Coronagraphic Imager (NICI) at the Gemini South telescope in Chile.

Martin's team used NICI to study gas and dust features surrounding the central star where the complex structure includes an intricate network of wispy clouds, inspiring the "Butterfly Nebula" moniker. The data also uncover a feature never directly imaged before called the Little Homunculus Nebula.

"The Homunculus is an evolving corpse of a dying star, and most of what we see is the visible outer layer, like a skin, from the Great Eruption. The Little Homunculus is under that skin," said Martin.

"The Gemini images have allowed us to perform something akin to an autopsy by peeling away the obscuring, outer dusty skin and giving us a glimpse of what's inside.

In the process we're finding things we have never imaged before and didn't expect. It's like finding your murder victim has a third lung, an extra liver, or something more exotic hidden away under their skin!" Martin and his team hope that these observations will soon trace the uncertain history of a minor eruption in the Eta Carinae system in the late 1890s.

The research team also includes Etienne Artigau (University of Montreal, Canada, lead author on subsequent paper and previously at Gemini South), Kris Davidson (University of Minnesota), Roberta Humphreys (University of Minnesota), Olivier Chesneau (FIZEAU, France), and Nathan Smith (University of California, Berkeley).

Eta Carinae, located only about 7,500 to 8,000 light-years away, consists of at least two stars at its core, the largest of which is among the most luminous and massive stars in our galaxy, having a mass of at least 100 times that of our Sun.

The stellar component is visible to the naked eye from the southern hemisphere and very low northern latitudes. Because of the complexity and advanced age of this stellar system, Eta Carinae has displayed consistently odd behavior, and its brightness has varied greatly over the centuries.

During its massive explosion (that lasted from 1843 through the 1850s) it gave off as much light energy as a typical supernova but somehow survived the normally annihilating event.

What we see as the Homunculus Nebula are the remains of that explosion - sometimes called the supernova imposter event. The gases expelled from this explosion are hurtling outward at up to 2 million kilometers per hour and are comprised of a mixture of diverse elements (from nitrogen to iron) formed by the massive star.

NICI, the Gemini South instrument used to obtain the data for this result, incorporates a built-in curvature-sensing adaptive optics system and is optimized for the detection of faint, sub-stellar companions.

It images over a field of about 18 arcseconds at wavelengths from 1 to 5 microns. In addition to images like the one featured in this release, NICI is currently being utilized in an aggressive planet-finding campaign targeting about 300 nearby stars for possible planetary companions.


Related Links
Gemini Telescope
University of Illinois Springfield
Stellar Chemistry, The Universe And All Within It

Comment on this article via your Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle

Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News

Researchers Recalculate Age Of Solar System
Tempe AZ (SPX) Jan 04, 2010
Lead-lead (Pb-Pb) dating is among the most widely used radiometric dating techniques to determine the age of really old things, such as the age of the Earth or the Solar System. However, recent advances in instrumentation now allow scientists to make more precise measurements that promise to revolutionize the way the ages of some samples are calculated with this technique. Radiometric dati ... read more

Lava tube could house moon colony

Moon Mission In Running For Next Big Space Venture

Obama cuts moon travel, links NASA to private firms

3D Measurements Of Apollo 14 Landing Site

Mars Spirit Rover Facing End Of Mission Decision

Mars rover Spirit's 6-year stint may be ending: NASA

Opportunity Approaching 'Concepcion' Crater Rim

Spirit Right-Front And Right-Rear Wheels Remain Stalled

US still has space ambitions: NASA chief

Chairman Gordon Comments On President's Budget Request

South Korea to send its cuisine into space

Research For The Future

China Building Large Radio Telescope For Space Observation

China To Launch Civil HD Survey Satellite In 2011

China Launches First Public-Welfare Mini Satellite

Chang'e-1 Has Blazed A New Trail In China's Deep Space Exploration

How To Live Long And Prosper In Space

Russia Set To Launch Another Space Truck To ISS

Obama budget extends US commitment to space station

Mini-Research Module MRM1 At Cape For Shuttle Processing

Booz Allen Hamilton To Transform LA Spacelift Range

Apron Construction Contract Awarded For Spaceport America

Shuttle-Derived Vehicle: Shuttle-Derived Disaster

Final Launch Of Ariane 5 GS Completes Busy Year

Kepler Space Telescope Discovers Five Exoplanets

Avatar Moon Pandora Could Be Real

Astronomers Find World With Inhospitable Atmosphere And Icy Heart

First Super-Earths Discovered Around Sun-Like Stars

Superatom mimicry offers insights to periodic table

An Easy Way To See Thinnest Material

Understanding Interaction In Virtual Worlds

Boeing-Built DirecTV 12 Satellite Delivers 1st Signals From Space

The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2014 - Space Media Network. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA Portal Reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement,agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement