Posted by: Kash Farooq | June 12, 2012

Space Scenery: Carina Nebula

Continuing the Space Scenery series

Nebulae are clouds of dust and gas in space (the word ‘nebula’ comes the Latin for ‘cloud’). They usually have stars forming within them, which gives them the aesthetically pleasing quality of being lit from the inside.

Visible in the southern sky, the Great Carina Nebula (also known as NGC 3372) is over 300 light-years wide. It is one of the Milky Way’s largest star forming regions. It is 7500 light years away and yet still easily visible to the naked eye.

I’ll start with a fantastic widefield view. Click for the 3300 × 2236 version:

The Great Carina Nebula

This image reveals details such as glowing filaments of interstellar gas and dust clouds. The field of view in this image is nearly 100 light-years across. The very bright star at the centre-left of the image is Eta Carinae, which is 100 times the mass of the Sun and probably on the verge of exploding. Credit: Robert Gendler and Ryan Hannahoe. Used with permission.

This image is one of the most detailed images ever captured of the Carina Nebula. It shows prominent dark molecular clouds – these clouds so thick (relatively) that they have become opaque. In reality they are less dense than, say, Earth’s atmosphere. Click for the 4000 × 1937 version:

Dark Clouds of the Carina Nebula from Hubble

Carina Nebula showing prominent dark clouds of molecular gas. Credit: NASA, ESA, N. Smith (U. California, Berkeley) et al., and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA).

Here is a view from Earth – from the European Southern Observatory in Chile. Click for the 4000 × 3966 version:

The Great Carina Nebula from ESO

Captured by the ESO La Silla Observatory in Chile: Credit: European Southern Observatory.

Stellar winds from new stars burn away accumulations of dark dust creating a “sculpted landscape”. Click for the 2825 × 1090 version:

Dust Mountains in the Carina Nebula

Dust Mountains in the Carina Nebula. Credit: NASA, ESA, Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA); Acknowledgement: N. Smith et al. (JHU).

Last, but not least, here is my favourite image. A new star (not visible) is slowly eroding the 1 light year wide pillar of gas and dust from inside. Like many other new stars in this region, it is ejecting energetic beams of particles. The pillars will be completely destroyed to reveal a new open cluster of stars. The red stars are also newly formed but have already been freed from their clouds. Click for the 2083 × 1918 version:

Dust Pillars of the Carina Nebula from Hubble

Dust Pillar of the Carina Nebula from Hubble. Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Livio and the Hubble 20th Anniversary Team (STScI).


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