Astronomers Utilize NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory to Study Eruption from Eta Carinae
A team of astronomers has utilized data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory to study an eruption from Eta Carinae, a system consisting of two massive stars. The eruption, known as the “Great Eruption,” occurred in the mid-19th century and resulted in the ejection of a large amount of mass, forming the Homunculus Nebula.
By combining their observations, the astronomers have created a new movie that showcases the expansion of the stellar eruption into space over the course of two decades. The movie reveals the rapid expansion of a bright X-ray ring surrounding the Homunculus Nebula and the existence of a previously unknown faint shell of X-rays outside it.
The discovery of this outer X-ray shell sheds light on Eta Carinae’s history and is believed to have originated from a blast wave caused by the Great Eruption. The shape and orientation of the outer X-ray shell and Homunculus Nebula suggest a common origin for both structures. To support their findings, the astronomers also used data from ESA’s XMM-Newton and NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.
Further analysis of the Chandra data also confirmed previous observations from NASA’s Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) telescope on the International Space Station. The X-ray brightness of Eta Carinae has been observed to fade over time.
The researchers estimate that the Great Eruption was composed of two explosions: a quick ejection of a small amount of fast, low-density gas followed by the slower ejection of dense gas that formed the Homunculus Nebula. Previous research has suggested that the Great Eruption may have been caused by the merger of two stars in a triple system.
These new insights contribute to a better understanding of the enigmatic Eta Carinae system and its survivability despite undergoing such a powerful explosion. The researchers anticipate that further data will uncover more surprises from Eta Carinae in the future.
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