The binary star system known as eta Carinae is part of the Trumpler 16 open cluster in the Carina Nebula. The two members have a combined luminosity five million times that of our Sun. However, its brightness has varied enormously down the ages. The primary star has an enormous mass of perhaps 150 times that of the Sun. Eta Carinae was first catalogued by Edmund Halley in 1677 and has been frequently observed in the centuries since.
The distinctive lobes of gas, known as the Homunculus Nebula, are the result of the Great Outburst of 1843, which saw the star suddenly brighten to 20 million times the luminosity of the Sun and become visible to the naked eye, despite being 7,500 light years away.
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