Credit: NASA, ESA, N. Smith (University of California, Berkeley), and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
If you set out to find a starry version of “Where the Wild Things Are,” you’d find it in the Carina Nebula. All week, we’ve been exploring the way the swirls in the star cloud look like animals; a swift, caterpillar and an eagle, and sea monsters.
But it’s more than that. We find that giant stars, on the verge of going supernova, cause the gas to swirl and glow. And inky, dark dust globs, called Bok globules, hide new stars. We see all this in the larger mosaic of images taken by NASA‘s Hubble Space Telescope.
From side to side, the entire Carina Nebula spans 300 light years. A light year is the distance light travels in a year, about 6 trillion miles. It is a very large nebula in Earth’s skies but it lies far in the southern hemisphere so it’s not well known. Astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille discovered the nebula in 1751-52 during a science trip to the Cape of Good Hope at the tip of Africa.
The Carina Nebula is about 7,500 light-years away toward the constellation Carina the Keel. Carina is a constellation in the southern hemisphere. it is part of an older constellation group called Argo Navis, after the ship that carried Jason and the Argonauts.