The larger of the two stars in the Eta Carinae system is a huge and unstable star that is nearing the end of its life.
Eta Carinae is one of the closest stars to Earth that is likely to explode in a supernova in the relatively near future. Though in astronomical timescales the “near future” could still be a million years away, when it does explode, expect an impressive view from Earth, far brighter still than its last outburst. SN 2006gy was the brightest supernova ever observed, came from a star of the same type, though from a galaxy over 200 million light-years away.
This image, taken with the Advanced Camera for Surveys High Resolution Channel, is what Scientists call these outbursts supernova impostor events, because they appear similar to supernovae but stop just short of destroying their star. The image shows how the material from the star was not thrown out in a uniform manner, but forms a huge dumbbell shape.
This is NASA’s Hubble Telescopes most detailed image of Eta Carinae. The image consists of ultraviolet and visible light images from the High Resolution Channel of Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys. The field of view is approximately 30 arcseconds across.
Image Credit: ESA/NASA