Secrets in Carina’s Dust

Credit: ESO/T. Preibisch

Sea monsters, birds and mystic mountains hide in this detailed infrared image of the Carina Nebula from ESO‘s Very Large Telescope.

Explore the cool details of the stellar nursery known as the Carina Nebula. What shapes and stories do you see? Leave a note below.

The Carina Nebula is one of the most active star-making factories in the Milky Way Galaxy. Nebulae are clouds of glowing gas and dust; perfect ingredients for making stars. The Carina Nebula is one of the largest nebulae known. It not only home to regular stars like our Sun but also the nebula houses some of the heaviest and most massive stars known. The bright area in the lower left is one of these stars. Known as Eta Carinae, this star, surrounded by arcs of glowing clouds, has been the second brightest star in our Earth skies. Its light changes over time and astronomers think that it may explode in a supernova in the near future.

The nebula is a favorite among the amazing images from NASA‘s Hubble Space Telescope. That image taken in visible light shows many details. But looking at objects in space with infrared telescopes allows astronomers to peer into clouds of dust. We feel infrared as heat. With an infrared camera, we can see warm objects glowing inside the clouds of dust. These warm objects tend to be newborn stars still veiled in the dust clouds that created them. In both visible and infrared images, look for inky blobs of material. These cold, compact blobs of dust are known as Bok globules. They may be cocoons for new stars.

The nebula makes individual stars and also produces some star clusters. The bright cluster of stars near the center of the image is called Trumpler 14. This region can be seen in the Hubble image but many more stars are visible here. The yellowish cluster of stars to the left of Trumpler 14 can only be seen in infrared. It was discovered for the first time in this image. It appears yellow because thick dust scatters the light of the cluster making it yellowish or reddish much like the red sunsets we have on Earth. Astronomers use images like this to find fainter and smaller stars. They may even be able to see very faint, and cool brown dwarfs. Brown dwarfs are stars that didn’t quite make it as stars because they were too small to start nuclear fires within their cores.

The Carina Nebula is found about 7,500 light-years from Earth toward the constellation Carina, the Keel of Jason’s ship, the Argo.

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