Scientists have spent the past several years studying the superstar Eta Carinae, which is described as the most luminous and massive stellar system within 10,000 light-years of Earth. Here are some of the stunning images and footage they captured.
Aside from the fact that it’s massive, the star also displays what NASA calls “surprising behavior,” with eruptions related to the superstar’s very bizarre makeup. Basically, it’s two massive stars, orbiting one another in “eccentric” orbits that bring them extremely close every 5.5 years. When that happens, things get shiny.
NASA notes that both stars produce powerful stellar winds, which enshroud the stars and make it harder for us to measure their properties. Astronomers now believe the brighter, cooler primary star has about 90 times the mass of the sun and outshines it by 5 million times. The smaller, hotter companion star is likely about 30 times the mass of our sun, and emits a million times the sun's light. Whoa, that’s bright.
Check out the video showing off the findings below:
If you want to know a bit more about the technical side of the study, here’s an excerpt from NASA’s release on the findings:
During the past 11 years, spanning three periastron passages [when the stars are closest, about 140 million miles (225 million kilometers) away], the Goddard group has developed a model based on routine observations of the stars using ground-based telescopes and multiple NASA satellites. According to this model, the interaction of the two stellar winds accounts for many of the periodic changes observed in the system. The winds from each star have markedly different properties: thick and slow for the primary, lean and fast for the hotter companion. The primary's wind blows at nearly 1 million mph and is especially dense, carrying away the equivalent mass of our sun every thousand years. By contrast, the companion's wind carries off about 100 times less material than the primary's, but it races outward as much as six times faster.
Again, layman’s terms — it’s very fast and very hot. Oh, and very beautiful.