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.”
Combining images taken with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope over more than 20 years, a team of researchers has discovered that Eta Carinae, a very massive star system that has puzzled astronomers since it erupted in a supernova-like event in the mid-19th century, has a past that’s much more violent than they thought.
Eta Carinae is the most luminous and massive stellar system within 10,000 light-years of Earth. A long-term study led by astronomers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center used satellites, ground-based telescopes and theoretical modelling to produce the most comprehensive picture of Eta Carinae to date.