Soooo, for the best part of last week I crisscrossed the regions beyond the Eta Carina Nebula.
I made it downwards to -270 LY, climbed again through the ever present 'red' layer of Brown Dwarfs and Protostars and upwards to some 250 LY above the galactic plane, ever pushing forward towards my next Milestone of NGC 3199. In a nutshell, what can be found here is unlike anything I saw in my prior travels, which were rich in phenomena such as giant stars, star clusters, young OB star associations, the occasional nebula and also multiple Neutron Stars and even some Black Holes.
I don't know how else I could describe the area beyond Eta Carina than being 'remarkably unremarkable'. With the huge and beautiful Eta Carina Nebula behind, all signs of ancient 20th century astronomy seem to end. There are no more 2MASS, CPD, HIP or HD denominations, no COL star clusters from the Collinder Catalogue. Beyond Eta Carina, it seems, astronomy once upon a time must have ended. From here, one could argue, astronomy blends with your own imagination and beliefs.
There is a scientific reason, of course, for this. The regions between the Spiral Arms of Sagittarius and Perseus are very old ones when you look at the stars' age. Here, between the bright Spiral Arms, most interstellar gas was used up long ago and thus no or barely any star formation takes place these days (astronomically speaking). Even B type stars and protostars are very rare out here. The lack of giant stars complements this as their far shorter lifespans compared to main sequence stars means they also died in the distant past. Essentially, all you see is vast stretches of K and M stars dotted with Fs, Gs and Ls. The result drawn on a map can be described as one of those homogenic metropolitan suburbs back home where one house looks like the other and where one lawn had the exact same dimensions and colours as the ones left and right. Hell, I was even tempted to call them the Carina Suburbs but in the end that might just have been a bit nasty, wouldn't it?
Still, there are sights to be seen; but you have to either look specifically for them or you just chance upon them in your travels. Older stars mean more room for terraformable planets and even some rare places where life already did evolve.
There is also one particular phenomenon I would like to present a bit closer: Nestled deep within the brilliantly named 'Smojo' sector and sitting right on top of the Brown Dwarf belt lies the 'core' of what might be an Open Star Cluster. At least, the presence of seven closely associated B stars with the exact same spectral class (B0 VZ) and some Protostars around might indicate that they formed in the same cloud complex (which is now extinct due to star formation and ionization). Admittedly, that's where imagination and astronomy blend together. But we are humans, right? We are always obsessed with 'seeing things' where science tells us there is nothing to be seen. Put a Smiley in here, HAL.
Now, I have dubbed the cluster the 'Seven Sapphires'. Of course, further investigations would be necessary to determine this Cluster's age and structure but at least there is something out of the ordinary to report home. Ah yes, the cluster is also a quite lively place as there are numerous Water Worlds and Gas Giants with ammonia- or water-based life around, so this might just be the 'stopover' for Space Trucker generations to come. Real estate investments, anybody?
2,000 and some LY to go to NGC 3199. Time to move on!