From the Hubble Space Telescope
This stunning NASA Hubble Space Telescope image shows the supermassive star Eta Carinae. Using a combination of image processing techniques (dithering, subsampling and deconvolution), astronomers created one of the highest resolution images of an extended object ever produced by Hubble Space Telescope. Eta Carinae was observed in September 1995 with the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2. Images taken through red and near-ultraviolet filters were subsequently combined to produce the color image shown. A sequence of eight exposures cover the image's dynamic range: the outer ejecta blobs are 100,000 times fainter than the brilliant central star. Even though Eta Carinae is more than 8,000 light-years away, structures only 10 billion miles across (about the diameter of our solar system) can be distinguished. Dust lanes, small condensations, and strange radial streaks appear with unprecedented clarity.
Eta Carinae was the site of a giant outburst about 150 years ago, when it became one of the brightest stars in the southern sky. Though the star released as much visible light as a supernova explosion, it survived the outburst. The explosion produced two polar lobes and a large thin equatorial disk, all moving outward at about 1.5 million miles per hour. Excess violet light escapes along the equatorial plane between the bipolar lobe as there is relatively little dusty debris. The lobes, on the other hand, contain large amounts of dust which preferentially absorb blue light, causing the lobes to appear reddish. Estimated to be 100 times more massive than our Sun, Eta Carinae is one of the most massive stars in our Galaxy. It radiates about five million times more power than our Sun. Eventually, this star's outburst may provide unique clues to other, more modest stellar bipolar explosions and to hydrodynamic flows from stars in general.
Image Title: Super-Sharp View of the Doomed Star Eta Carinae
based on press release for PHOTO NO.: STScI-PRC96-23a
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Last Modified On: Tuesday, December 19, 2000