The Carina Nebula itself was first observed from South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope. Among the nebula’s many nicknames includes the Eta Argus Nebula, which references structures that English astronomer James Dunlop and English astronomer John Herschel likened to the ship of the ancient Greek mythological hero Jason and his team of argonauts.
In the hundreds of thousands of years yet ahead, astronomers project that the many new stars just developing in various areas within the Carina Nebula will burn up the majority of dust and gases surrounding them, leaving an open, clear view of each star inside the nebula’s boundaries.
Carina Nebula Profile
Here is a profile of the Carina Nebula at a glance.
Designation: NGC (New General Catalog) 3372, plus additional structures catalogued as follows: NGC 3372, Caldwell 92, GC 2197, ESO 128-EN013
Type: Large diffuse nebula
Diameter: 120×120 arc minutes
Distance: 8,500 light years
Mass: 900,000 solar masses
Facts About the Carina Nebula
- The Carina Nebula was discovered by the French astronomer Abbe Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille in 1752. In addition to discovering and naming this nebula, the Abbe also discovered and named 13 other constellations in the 88 catalogued to date.
- The Carina Nebula has several nicknames, including the Grand Nebula, the Great Nebula in Carina and Eta Carinae Nebula.
- The nebula formation includes the Milky Way’s brightest star, WR 25 in the Trumpler 16 star cluster.
- The Carina Nebula is one of the largest nebula in its class (which is “large, diffuse nebulae”) and one of the best to study for aspiring and established astronomers due to its brightness, location and diversity.
- While it is very bright and large, the Carina Nebula is still not that well known because of its location, which can make it hard to locate in the night sky. It has a brightness magnitude of 1.0+ which means it can easily be seen without even a pair of binoculars.
- While the Carina Nebula is officially located in the Milky Way’s Carina constellation, it is also quite near the Sagittarius constellation.
- Eta Carinae, one of the best-known stars included in the Carina Nebula, is also a very rare type of star called a luminous hypergiant. It is estimated to be 400 million times brighter than the Sun.
- Other famous features located inside the Carina Nebula include the Homunculus Nebula (the “little man” nebula), the Keyhole Nebula, Mystic Mountain, Bochum 10 and 11, Collinder 228, Collinder 232, Collinder 234, Trumpler 14 through 16, Herbig-Haro Object Stellar Jet, WR (Wolf-Rayet) 22 and 25 stars, HD 93129 Star System, HD 93250 binary star, HD 93205 binary system, several Box globules.
- Every single year, stellar wind gusts blow away enough of the Carina Nebula’s mass to be equivalent to the size and mass of the planet Jupiter, the gas supergiant.
- Astronomers estimate the Carina Nebula’s central star, Eta Carinae, is overdue for a supernova (hyper nova) event – a catastrophic explosion that will likely lay waste to everything in its path. Eta Carinae is a LBV (luminous blue variable) star type.
- Eta Carinae, the Carina Nebula’s central star, shares its near space with another even larger star that is completely obscured by Carina Nebula itself. Both are said to be due for a supernova explosion now or quite soon.
- The Carina Nebula feature known as Mystic Mountain is quite literally a pillar shaped out of dust and gases. Mystic Mountain gets its name from its appearance in a photograph taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2010, which shows it to look somewhat like a mountain peak encompassed by cloud formations. This structure is home to several young (nascent) stars in the early stages of life.
- The Carina Nebula feature known as the Homunculus Nebula directly surrounds the star Eta Carinae itself. It is thought this structure is relatively recent and may have formed as late as 1843. The same explosion, nicknamed the “great eruption,” created the two lobes (circular formations in opposition to each other) and a slim central disc.
- The Carina Nebula feature known as the Keyhole Nebula is designated as NGC 3324 and was first observed and categorized by the English astronomer John Herschel. It takes its name from its shape, which looks like a key hole.
- The Carina Nebula’s predominant gas is hydrogen. Helium, oxygen and sulphur have also been detected, which tells astronomers that the Carina Nebula itself was formed in part by ancient stars in the end-stages of life as well as newer activity of developing stars, whose radiation emissions are responsible for many of the oddly-shaped structures observed today.
- Due to the level of dust and gaseous matter within the Carina Nebula, it is highly likely the nebula will give birth to even more new stars in the centuries to come.
- Because the Carina Nebula in its entirety is so massive, it is only possible for astronomers to study it in sections. Even these sections often have to be pieced together from smaller photos into composites that can then be dissected and catalogued.