Thursday, June 25, 2015

Oh Carina!

Okay, I have a problem. When exploring the unknown and covering distances of thousands of light years you start to speak in superlatives of the things you see. I mean, Black Holes, Supergiants, Nebula after Nebula? Planets with indigenous life? Not long ago, this was the stuff of legends and no wonder you start to choose the highest categories of words that come into your mind.

And here I am, having reached the Eta Carina Nebula; and there are no more superlatives left. 

I have described other things as 'amazingly beautiful', 'awe inspiring' and 'truly magnificient'. What else is there now for this jewel in space? It is like an arrangement of red, orange and dark curtains falling down, thus revealing its intriguing interior, which seems to be a small cosmos of its own.Eta Carina Nebula is the heart of the Carina Molecular Complex. Well, in fact it is the 'last' of multiple structures in the Complex, whereas other clusters and nebulae lie 'in front' of it when approaching from Sol (or Alioth in my case). But it is also the climax, the beautiful crescendo of a galactic cloud some thousand light years wide.

The nebula itself was once thought to be (at least in part) the product of ejected planetary material from a Wolf-Rayet star. There is no WR in the nebula, however, so maybe it already died many years ago. The death of stars is a common sight in and around as there are some Neutron Stars and also a couple of Black Holes in the vicinity. These violent deaths in the past may (or rather must) have contributed to the nebula's immense gas columns. These columns, like I said, seem like curtains to me and astronomers of old attributed several flashy names to them, like the Keyhole Nebula (which is indeed a substructure of Eta Carina Nebula so to say), the Homunculus Nebula and even a 'Finger of God'. Speaking of fingers, when you look at it from a distance the nebula looks like a hand, don't you think? A hand that was somehow blown into its shape by cosmic winds from 'bottom to top'. 

Astronomy and imagination don't lie that much apart sometimes...

All right, hands and death aside, there is also star formation that can be observed in and around the Carina structure, too. There are many T Tauri stars lying closely together and the occasional massive O type star, including the supermassive Eta Carinae system itself, already foreshadow the next wave of deaths that will occurr here. This in turn will once again enrich the interstellar medium for new stellar births. It all comes full circle here.With all this to discover the Eta Carina Nebula is a definite 'must' for any explorer going in this direction. For me, it's 'Sayonara Carina!' as there are even more superlatives out there on my way. I hope I will find the right words for them. 

Time to move on!

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