Ahead of the Fourth of July, NASA is showing off an impressive fireworks display that really is out of this world.
NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope managed to take sublime images of a star known as Eta Carinae exploding 7,500-light-years from Earth, expanding with hot gases that are red, white and blue.
“We’ve discovered a large amount of warm gas that was ejected in the Great Eruption but hasn’t yet collided with the other material surrounding Eta Carinae,” explained lead investigator of the Hubble program, Nathan Smith, in a statement. “Most of the emission is located where we expected to find an empty cavity. This extra material is fast, and it ‘ups the ante’ in terms of the total energy for an already powerful stellar blast.”
This Hubble Space Telescope image of the giant, petulant star Eta Carinae is yielding new surprises. Telescopes such as Hubble have monitored the super-massive star for more than two decades. The star, the largest member of a double-star system, has been prone to violent outbursts, including an episode in the 1840s during which ejected material formed the bipolar bubbles seen here. Now, using Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 to probe the nebula in ultraviolet light, astronomers have uncovered the glow of magnesium embedded in warm gas (shown in blue) in places they had not seen it before. (Credit: NASA, ESA, N. Smith (University of Arizona) and J. Morse (BoldlyGo Institute))
Eta Carinae has put on the celestial show before, with NASA noting the spectacular event started in the 1840s when the star went through what’s known as a “titanic outburst, called the Great Eruption,” which made it the second-brightest star visible in the sky for over a decade.
“Eta Carinae, in fact, was so bright that for a time it became an important navigational star for mariners in the southern seas,” NASA added.
Since then, it’s faded and is now barely visible to the naked eye. Over the past 25 years, it’s been studied by every instrument on the Hubble and astronomers believe it may have weighed more than 150 Suns and it may be on the brink of total destruction.
Smith added that they had used Hubble “for decades” to study the star in visible and infrared light, but the new ultraviolet lights give it a very different look.
“We’re excited by the prospect that this type of ultraviolet magnesium emission may also expose previously hidden gas in other types of objects that eject material, such as protostars or other dying stars,” Smith added. Only Hubble can take these kinds of pictures.”
The newly discovered gas may be crucial to understanding how the star erupted and what might happen as it becomes a supernova and explodes. The researchers added that this event may have already happened, but the light has not yet reached Earth.
So it looks like we’ll have at least one more incredible fireworks display, courtesy of the galaxy.