Science

See famously explosive star Eta Carinae in spectacular new 3D view

Eta Carinae is a star with a short temper and a knack for putting on a good show.

NASA and ESA's Hubble Space Telescope captured this new view of Eta Carinae.
NASA, ESA, N. Smith (University of Arizona) and J. Morse (BoldlyGo Institute)

In the 1840s, Eta Carinae erupted in a violent outburst that suddenly made it the second brightest star in the night sky. The star slowly dimmed during the decades that followed, and today it's shrouded in a spectacular nebula that's still a remarkable sight, particularly when observed at different wavelengths of light.

A new visualization from NASA draws upon the agency's different space observatories to create a 3D composite view that brings to life the cosmic fallout of one of the more violent celestial episodes to be witnessed from Earth.

Images from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-ray observatory taken in visible light, ultraviolet and X-rays reveal how the tumultuous star illuminates the Homunculus Nebula, which was created starting with the so-called "Great Eruption" nearly 180 years ago. 

The eruption blasted dust and gas out into space in opposite directions, forming the bi-lobed hourglass shape that makes up the Homunculus Nebula today. 

In addition, astronomers can use the Spitzer telescope to see through the nebula.

"Spitzer's infrared image lets us peer through the dust that obscures our view in visible light to reveal the intricate details and extent of the Carina Nebula around this brilliant star," Robert Hurt, lead visualization scientist at Caltech, said in a statement.

On top of its melodramatic history, Eta Carinae is one of the most massive stars we know of. Such huge fireballs tend to be prone to outbursts and will likely end up collapsing into a black hole following a supernova explosion.

In other words, this superstar is just getting warmed up and has plans to put on an encore that will literally bring down the house and everything else nearby.