Eta Carinae

From Academic Kids

 image showing debris from past eruptions and the star itself.
Hubble Space Telescope image showing debris from past eruptions and the star itself.

Eta Carinae (η Car / η Carinae) is a very large (100-150 times as much mass as the Sun) and bright (luminosity about four million times that of the Sun) luminous blue variable star in the constellation Carina (right ascension 10 h 45.1 m, declination −59°41m). The star is surrounded by a large, bright nebula, known as the Eta Carinae Nebula, the Keyhole Nebula, or NGC 3372. It (like the Pistol Star) may be the largest and most massive star in the Milky Way. LBV stars are extraordinarily rare and are thought to approach the theoretical upper limit of stellar mass.

One remarkable aspect of Eta Carinae is its changing brightness. When it was first catalogued in 1677 by Edmond Halley, it was of the 4th magnitude, but by 1730 observers noticed it had brightened considerably, and was now one of the brightest stars in Carina. From there it dimmed again, and by 1782 was back to its former obscurity, but in 1820 it started growing in brightness again. By 1827 it has brightened more than tenfold, and reached its greatest brightness in April 1843, when with a magnitude of −0.8 it was the second brightest star in the sky (after Sirius), despite its enormous distance (7,000–10,000 light-years). After that, it faded away, and between about 1900 and 1940 it was only of the 8th magnitude, and thus not visible to the unaided eye. Currently (2005) it is of magnitude 5–6, having suddenly and unexpectedly doubled its brightness in 1998–1999.

Eta Carinae sometimes has large outbursts, the last one just around its brightness maximum, in 1841. The reason for these outbursts is not yet known. The most likely possibility is believed to be that they are caused by built-up radiation pressure from the star's enormous luminosity.

Very large stars like Eta Carinae use up their fuel very fast as evidenced by their high luminosity, and the star is expected to go supernova or hypernova within about 1 million years of its first appearance (the total lifetime of the Sun is estimated at 10,000 million years, half of which has passed now).

Recent observations seem to indicate that eta Carinae is actually a binary star, the two stars orbiting each other with a period of around 5.5 years.

External links

it:Eta Carinae pt:Eta Carinae nl:Eta Carinae

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