Carina’s Misty Mountains

Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Livio and the Hubble 20th Anniversary Team (STScI)

Towering over the landscape of the Carina Nebula, a surreal, mist-enshrouded, mountainscape awaits travelers today. This dramatic image celebrates the 20th anniversary of the launch of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.

NASA describes the 20th Anniversary Hubble image as a bizarre landscape “out of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings or a Dr. Seuss book.” This awesome image shows the turbulent activity atop a three-light-year-tall pillar of gas and dust. Explore the image. The Carina Nebula is one of the Milky Way Galaxy’s largest stellar nurseries. New stars are being born inside the towering pillar of gas and dust. The entire pillar is being eaten away and shaped by the scorching winds and radiation of nearby super-hot stars. Looking like wispy clouds, streams of hot gas can be seen flowing away from the ridges and valleys. Astronomers call this photo-evaporation.

Look for pairs of jets; one near the top of the highest pillar and another near the top of the left-most pillar. Astronomers look for these signs of new star birth. They are called Herbig-Haro objects. The jets are caused when swirling disks of material fall onto the surface of the newborn stars and is blasted back into space.

The Carina Nebula is a huge stellar nursery located in our galaxy about 7,500 light-years from Earth toward the southern constellation of Carina, the Keel. Carina is part of the old constellation of Argo Navis. Although the original constellation was named after the ship in the Greek myth of Jason and the Argonauts, the collection of stars was not visible to Greeks or Romans. Ptolemy listed the grouping as part of his list of 48 constellations. French astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille divided the larger constellation into three smaller groups in 1752.

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