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Carina Nebula

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Carina Nebula

Carina Nebula
Emission nebula
Detail of NGC 3372 taken by the VLT telescope
Credit: ESO
Observation data: J2000.0 epoch
Right ascension 10h 45m 08.5s[1]
Declination −59° 52′ 04″[1]
Distance ~6500-10000[1] ly
Apparent magnitude (V) +1.0
Constellation Carina
Physical characteristics
Radius ~460 [2] ly   (~140 pc)
Notable features Includes dark nebula
Keyhole Nebula
Designations NGC 3372,[3] ESO 128-EN013,[1] GC 2197,[1] Caldwell 92[4]

The Carina Nebula (also known as the Great Nebula in Carina, the Eta Carinae Nebula, NGC 3372, as well as the Grand Nebula) is a large bright nebula that has within its boundaries several related open clusters of stars, all part of the large OB association Carina OB1. The two star clusters Trumpler 14 and Trumpler 16 are the youngest clusters in the association, but Trumpler 15, Collinder (Cr) 228, Cr 232, NGC 3324, and NGC 3293 are all considered members. Trumpler 14 is one of the youngest known star clusters, at half a million years old. Trumpler 16 is the home of WR 25, currently the most luminous star known in our Milky Way galaxy, together with the less luminous but more massive and famous Eta Carinae star system, and HD 93129A. NGC 3293 is the oldest furthest from Trumpler 14, indicating sequential and ongoing star formation. The nebula lies at an estimated distance between 6,500 and 10,000 light years from Earth. It appears in the constellation of Carina, and is located in the Carina–Sagittarius Arm. The nebula contains multiple O-type stars.

The nebula is one of the largest diffuse nebulae in our skies. Although it is some four times as large and even brighter than the famous Orion Nebula, the Carina Nebula is much less well known, due to its location in the southern sky. It was discovered by Nicolas Louis de Lacaille in 1751–52 from the Cape of Good Hope.


  • Objects within the Carina Nebula 1
    • Eta Carinae 1.1
    • Homunculus Nebula 1.2
    • Keyhole Nebula 1.3
    • Mystic Mountain 1.4
  • Gallery 2
  • References 3
  • External links 4

Objects within the Carina Nebula

Eta Carinae

Carina Nebula, glowing intensely red in the middle of the image.[5]

Eta Carinae is a highly luminous hypergiant star. Estimates of its mass range from 100 to 150 times the mass of the Sun, and its luminosity is about four million times that of the Sun.

This object is currently the most massive star that can be studied in great detail, because of its location and size. Several other known stars may be more luminous and more massive, but data on them is far less robust. (Caveat: Since examples such as the Pistol Star have been demoted by improved data, one should be skeptical of most available lists of "most massive stars." In 2006, Eta Carinae still had the highest confirmed luminosity, based on data across a broad range of wavelengths.) Stars with more than 80 times the mass of the Sun produce more than a million times as much light as the Sun. They are quite rare—only a few dozen in a galaxy as big as ours—and they flirt with disaster near the Eddington limit, i.e., the outward pressure of their radiation is almost strong enough to counteract gravity. Stars that are more than 120 solar masses exceed the theoretical Eddington limit, and their gravity is barely strong enough to hold in its radiation and gas, resulting in a possible supernova or hypernova in the near future.

Eta Carinae's effects on the nebula can be seen directly. The dark globules in the above image and some other less visible objects have tails pointing directly away from the massive star. The entire nebula would have looked very different before the Great Eruption in the 1840s surrounded Eta Carinae with dust, drastically reducing the amount of ultraviolet light it put into the nebula.

Homunculus Nebula

Within the large bright nebula is a much smaller feature, immediately surrounding Eta Carinae itself, known as the Homunculus Nebula (from the Latin meaning Little Man). It is believed to have been ejected in an enormous outburst in 1841 which briefly made Eta Carinae the second-brightest star in the sky.

Keyhole Nebula

Detail of the Keyhole Nebula, imaged by Hubble Space Telescope. The small nebula to the upper left has been nicknamed "finger of God" or "God's birdie", due to the gesture it appears to be making.

A portion of the Carina Nebula is known as the Keyhole, a name introduced by John Herschel in the 19th century. The Keyhole is often called the Keyhole Nebula (though that name is often applied to the Carina Nebula as a whole, signifying "the nebula containing the Keyhole").[6] The Keyhole is a much smaller and darker cloud of cold molecules and dust within the Carina Nebula, containing bright filaments of hot, fluorescing gas, silhouetted against the much brighter background nebula. The diameter of the Keyhole structure is approximately 7 light years.

The Keyhole does not have its own NGC designation. It is often erroneously called NGC 3324,[7] but that catalogue designation refers to a reflection and emission nebula just northwest of the Carina Nebula (or to its embedded star cluster).[8][9][10]

Mystic Mountain

The "Mystic Mountain" is an image of a dust–gas pillar in the Carina Nebula taken by Hubble Space Telescope on its 20th anniversary. The area was observed by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 on February 1–2, 2010. The pillar measures three light years in height; nascent stars inside the pillar fire off gas jets, that stream from towering peaks.


This zoom sequence starts with a broad view of the Milky Way and closes in on the Carina Nebula. In the final sequence we see a new image taken in infrared light using the HAWK-I camera on ESO’s Very Large Telescope. Many previously hidden features, scattered across a spectacular celestial landscape of gas, dust and young stars, have emerged.
This video sequence compares a view of the Carina Nebula taken in visible light with a new picture taken in infrared light. The visible-light view comes from the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory and the new infrared picture comes from the HAWK-I camera on ESO’s Very Large Telescope. Many new features that are not seen at all in visible light can be seen in great detail in the new sharp infrared image from the VLT.


  1. ^ a b c d e "Object Data – NGC 3372".  
  2. ^ "NGC 3372 - The Eta Carinae Nebula". Atlas of the Universe. Retrieved 2013-10-01. 
  3. ^ "NGC 3372".  
  4. ^ O'Meara, S. J. (2002). The Caldwell Objects.  
  5. ^ "One Picture, Many Stories". ESO Picture of the Week. Retrieved 13 February 2013. 
  6. ^ See, e.g., Burnham's Celestial Handbook, Dover, 1978, p. 467.
  7. ^ For example, see APOD - NGC 3324.
  8. ^ Kepple; et al. (2008). The Night Sky Observer's Guide. Vol. 3. Willman Bell, Inc. p. 52.  
  9. ^ "Results for NGC 3324". NGC/IC Project. Retrieved 17 May 2014. 
  10. ^ "NGC 3324". SIMBAD. Retrieved 17 May 2014. 

External links

  • : Carina Nebula shown in colourful detail - February 12, 2009European Southern Observatory
  • : Open star cluster Trumpler 16 - December 1, 2008NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day
  • : Eta Carinae and the Homunculus Nebula - June 17, 2008NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day
  • : The Great Nebula in Carina - July 19, 1999NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day
  • : The Eta Carinae NebulaSEDS
  • : Results for the Carina NebulaThe ESA Hubble Space Telescope site
  • Carina Nebula on WikiSky: DSS2, SDSS, GALEX, IRAS, Hydrogen α, X-Ray, Astrophoto, Sky Map, Articles and images
  • Interactive: The Carina Nebula in all its Glory...
  • Carina Nebula on Constellation Guide
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