Sunday, February 26, 2012

Prelude to a Supernova

Check the photo out. This is one of the stars in the binary star system Eta Carinae, captured by the Hubble Space Telescope. The image is the residual of an outburst first observed in April 1843. At its height t was the second brightest star in the sky, outshone only by Sirius. The event lasted until the start of the 20th century.

The event's aftermath, shown in the Hubble photo, shows the huge clouds of matter thrown out by the event in the 18 hundreds, called a false nova because it so closely resembles a nova when it occurs. The cloud comes from the death throes of the larger of the pair and is highly unstable. So unstable in fact that it could end its life as a supernova, the brightest ever seen from Earth, in the very near future.

Eta Carinae is one of the closest stars to Earth that is likely to explode in a supernova in the relatively near future - but future is a relative term in interstellar time. The supernova could happen in a few hundred years or a few hundred millenia.

photo by NASA Goddard Photo and Video

Larger sized photos and more info at the NASA Goddard Flickr site here

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