The death of a paired star is not a quiet affair. They growl and explode, blasting off their outer material and spreading radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum out into space.
It’s a process that can take a very long time – the more massive the star, the more magnificent the firework display.
Eta Carinae, a double star 7,500 light-years away, is really pretty big. Its two stars clock in at 90 and 30 times the mass of the Sun.
So its no wonder that the pair’s death throes are jaw-dropping – and they’ve been ongoing for nearly 200 years.
Eta Carinae exploded magnificently in 1838, in what is known as the Great Eruption. By April 1844, it was the second brightest object in the night sky. It blasted a bunch of material out into space, as much as 40 times the mass of the Sun, and that material surrounds the stars as the Homunculus Nebula.
The dying binary star has not done anything so dramatic since, but new images taken using the Hubble Space Telescope show that it’s still active within the glowing cloud of its own remains.
To capture the breathtaking new pictures, astronomers used the Wide Field Camera 3 instrument; their research goal was to plan magnesium glowing in ultraviolet light.