The Carina Nebula some 7,500 light years away is one of the most spectacular in the Milky Way galaxy, with massive stars in the deep interior lighting up vast clouds of gas and dust and generating stellar winds that disperse these stellar nurseries. More than 300 light years across, the Carina Nebula is one of the largest star forming regions in the galaxy, home of the famed Eta Carinae binary system in which one massive star is nearing the end of its life. The European Southern Observatory’s Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy – VISTA – captured this remarkably detailed view showing “agglomerations of young stars hidden within the dusty material snaking through the Carina Nebula.” In 2014, VISTA pinpointed nearly five million infrared sources in the nebula, “revealing the vast extent of this stellar breeding ground.”
An international team of astronomers have used the Very Large Telescope Interferometer to image the Eta Carinae star system in the greatest detail ever achieved. They found new and unexpected structures within the binary system, including in the area between the two stars where extremely high velocity stellar winds are colliding.
Located about 7,500 light-years away in the southern constellation of Carina, Eta Carinae outshines our Sun by 5 million times. The binary system consists of two massive stars in a tight 5.5-year orbit, shrouded in an expanding veil of gas and dust from an enormous eruption seen in the 1840s. Now a study using archival data from NASA’s Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes has found five similar objects in other galaxies for the first time.