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Carina Nebula

Carina Nebula

Detail of NGC 3372 taken by the VLT telescope

"Eta Carinae Nebula" redirects here. It is not to be confused with Eta Carinae's Homunculus Nebula.

The Carina Nebula (also known as the Great Nebula in Carina, the Eta Carinae Nebula, NGC 3372, as well as the Grand Nebula) is a large bright nebula that has within its boundaries several related open clusters of stars. It contains the large OB association Carina OB1. Carina OB1 contains the star clusters Trumpler 14 and Trumpler 16. Trumpler 15, Collinder 228, Collinder 232, NGC 3324, and NGC 3293 are also considered members. Trumpler 14 is one of the youngest known star clusters, at half a million years old. Trumpler 16 is the home of WR 25, currently the most luminous star known in our Milky Way galaxy, together with the less luminous but more massive and famous Eta Carinae star system, and HD 93129A. NGC 3293 is the oldest and furthest from Trumpler 14, indicating sequential and ongoing star formation. The nebula lies at an estimated distance between 6,500 and 10,000 light years from Earth. It appears in the constellation of Carina, and is located in the Carina–Sagittarius Arm. The nebula contains numerous O-type stars.

The nebula is one of the largest diffuse nebulae in our skies. Although it is some four times as large and even brighter than the famous Orion Nebula, the Carina Nebula is much less well-known, due to its location in the southern sky. It was discovered by Nicolas Louis de Lacaille in 1751–52 from the Cape of Good Hope.

Objects within the Carina Nebula

Eta Carinae

Main article: Eta Carinae

Carina Nebula, glowing intensely red in the middle of the image.

Eta Carinae is a highly luminous hypergiant star. Estimates of its mass range from 100 to 150 times the mass of the Sun, and its luminosity is about four million times that of the Sun.
This object is currently the most massive star that can be studied in great detail, because of its location and size. Several other known stars may be more luminous and more massive, but data on them is far less robust. (Caveat: Since examples such as the Pistol Star have been demoted by improved data, one should be skeptical of most available lists of "most massive stars." In 2006, Eta Carinae still had the highest confirmed luminosity, based on data across a broad range of wavelengths.) Stars with more than 80 times the mass of the Sun produce more than a million times as much light as the Sun. They are quite rare—only a few dozen in a galaxy as big as ours—and they flirt with disaster near the Eddington limit, i.e., the outward pressure of their radiation is almost strong enough to counteract gravity. Stars that are more than 120 solar masses exceed the theoretical Eddington limit, and their gravity is barely strong enough to hold in its radiation and gas, resulting in a possible supernova or hypernova in the near future.

Eta Carinae's effects on the nebula can be seen directly. The dark globules in the above image and some other less visible objects have tails pointing directly away from the massive star. The entire nebula would have looked very different before the Great Eruption in the 1840s surrounded Eta Carinae with dust, drastically reducing the amount of ultraviolet light it put into the nebula.

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