Eta Carinae, the double star system in the constellation Carina, experienced what is known as the Great Eruption more than a century and a half ago. It became the second brightest star when it happened but it has dimmed since then. However, astronomers, with the help of the Hubble telescope, find that such eruptions still occur.
Scientists have long known that the outer material thrown off in the 1840s eruption has been heated by shock waves generated when it crashed into material previously ejected from the star.
The team who captured this new image were expecting to find light from magnesium coming from the complicated array of filaments seen in the light from glowing nitrogen (shown in red). Instead, a whole new luminous magnesium structure was found in the space between the dusty bipolar bubbles and the outer shock-heated nitrogen-rich filaments.
With the new data from Hubble, scientists will try to gain some insight on how the eruption began as well as measure the speed with which the material from the eruption was ejected and when it did.
Image credit: NASA, ESA, N. Smith (University of Arizona, Tucson), and J. Morse (BoldlyGo Institute, New York)