In a Different Light: Eta Carinae

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View Eta Carinae in a variety of wavelengths of light and understand what we can learn from each. 

Produced by the Space Telescope Science Institute’s Office of Public Outreach in collaboration with NASA’s Universe of Learning partners: Caltech/IPAC, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, and Sonoma State University.
  • Ground-based Digitized Sky Survey image: ESO, Digitized Sky Survey 2
  • Hubble Space Telescope visible light image: NASA/STScI 
  • Hubble Space Telescope ultraviolet light image: NASA/STScI 
  • 6.5 meter Magellan telescopes at Las Campanas Observatory, Chile infrared image: Dr. Nathan Smith, University of Arizona
  • Chandra X-ray Observatory image: NASA/CXC/GSFC/K.Hamaguchi, et al.
  • Hubble Space Telescope composite image: NASA, ESA, N. Smith (University of Arizona), and J. Morse (BoldlyGo Institute) 

Written by Claire Blome
Designed by Dani Player
Editorial and design input from Margaret W. Carruthers; Dr. Quyen Hart; Timothy Rhue II; and Dr. Nathan Smith, University of Arizona
Music courtesy of Associated Production Music 


 Text, In A Different Light, Electromagnetic Spectrum. Eta Carinae. Quick Facts. Distance, 7,500 light-years. Constellation, Carina. Location, Carina Nebula, Milky Way Galaxy. A bar across the bottom of the screen reads, Radio, Microwave, Infrared, Visible, Ultraviolet, X-ray, Gamma Ray. 

Constellations, Vela, Centaurus, Carina. Text, In the 1840s, what looked like a single star erupted into the night sky. 

Eta Carinae, now known to be a two-star system, brightened, becoming the second-brightest star visible in the night sky for more than a decade. Ground-Based View. 

A photo. Visible is highlighted. 

Text, The drama of these slow-motion fireworks continues today. 

A visible light view from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope reveals messy, mirrored shapes of gas and dust around Eta Carinae's central stars. 

Two stars, which are extremely bright and prone to outbursts, are locked in an elliptical five-and-a-half-year orbit. 

An ultraviolet photo of Eta Carinae. The word ultraviolet is highlighted. 

Text, Hubble also imaged the ultraviolet light emitted around Eta Carinae, uncovering fast-moving material that may have been expelled earlier. 

Wherever ultraviolet light strikes the dense dust in this region, it leaves a long thin shadow that extends beyond the lobes into the surrounding gas. 

The effect is reminiscent of sunbeams streaming past the edge of a cloud. 

An infrared photo of Eta Carinae. The word infrared is highlighted. 

Text, This infrared-light view from the Magellan Telescope located at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile shows the dust itself. 

A reddish peanut-like shape. 

Text, Most of the light in this image is emitted by warm, glowing dust that was ejected during past eruptions. 

An X-ray photo of Eta Carinae. The word X-ray is highlighted. 

Text, By switching to an X-ray view of Eta Carinae, higher temperature gas and wind are visible. 

The photo shows a small blue glowing light surrounded by a larger ring of orange glowing light. 

The central blue dot in this image from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory is high-energy X-ray light from the colliding winds of the two central stars. 

The orange mass consists of layers of material that the stars have ejected before the eruption, with each new layer crashing into older layers, pushing material farther away. 

A colorful photo of Eta Carinae. The words visible and ultraviolet are highlighted. 

Text, At one point, Eta Carinae may have had as much mass at 150 of our suns, and the pair of stars continues to lose mass through repeated eruptions. 

By observing this active star in many wavelengths of light, researchers will continue to learn about the final stages of stellar evolution.