Hubble Space Telescope has recently captured stunning images of a super-massive star, Eta Carinae, that resembles a red, white, and blue-themed “fireworks” display that usually happens on US Independence Day i.e., 4th July. The scientists claim that these slow-motion fireworks have actually been unfolding over two centuries.
Origin of Eta Carinae’s fireworks
The source of the ‘fireworks’ show, Eta Carinae, is a double star system. It is located 7,500 light-years from Earth in the Carina or Ship’s Keel constellation.
The star’s fireworks began in 1838 as a result of a gigantic explosion, known as The Great Eruption. As a result, the second-brightest star appeared in the sky during April 1844. Before that, only Sirius was the only brighter star which was a thousand times closer to our planet.
After the appearance of Eta Carinae, sailormen started using it for ships navigating the southern seas. Although the star faded with time, the fireworks display still endures through all these years.
The scientists claim that Eta Carinae is no stranger to chaotic outbursts. In the past, it had sent pieces of itself out into space. However, the Great Eruption was different. Out of the two stars in the system, the larger one is a gigantic unstable star that is approaching the end of its lifespan.
New Theory about the Great Eruption
According to the new theory, it’s possible that three stars once existed in the system. The Great Eruption occurred when the main star cannibalized one of the other stars. That would have resulted in sending more than ten times the mass of our sun shooting out into space.
Since the explosions in space generally leave signatures behind. In this case, a giant shape formed by gas and the dust reminiscent of fireworks remains around the stars. Together, the clouds that radiate heat and glow due to magnesium gas are called the Homunculus Nebula.
In 1838, the material that ejected from the outburst of the star collided with other materials. Consequently, shock waves heated all of the ejected material.
Hubble has been capturing the star in many ways over the decades. In the latest image, it captures the nebula in ultraviolet light which appears in blue. The red color seen in the image is glowing nitrogen.
Nathan Smith is the lead investigator for Hubble at the Steward Observatory of the University of Arizona. He claimed that they have discovered a large amount of warm gas that was ejected in the Great Eruption. But it hasn’t yet collided with the other material surrounding Eta Carinae.
He further stated that most of the emission is located at a place which they had thought to be an empty cavity. According to their study, the additional material is fast, and it ‘ups the ante’ in terms of the total energy of an already powerful stellar blast.
The streaks of light that appear in the image look like sunbeams filtering through clouds or dust on Earth. Here, the light of the star is going through the dust and casting a shadow.
Moreover, the ultraviolet image reveals a new look at the star system. This depicts that the magnesium gas could be used to study other stars or nebulae.
The scientists hope that the final show will happen when the system explodes into a supernova that would eclipse the Great Eruption. However, they are not aware if this has already happened in the past. This is possible because, at the time of the explosion, the burst of starlight produced by the event might not have reached Earth for 7,500 years