The Hubble space telescope is still orbiting and looking at the incredible events that are happening in the universe around us. With the 4th of July celebration kicking off tomorrow, NASA is celebrating the holiday by showing us an incredible image of a giant firework in the vastness of space. The image here was captured using the Hubble Wide Field Camera 3 and maps the UV glow of magnesium embedded in warm gas, which is shown in blue, of Eta Carinae.
When astronomers viewed the image, they were surprised to see the gas in places that it hadn’t been seen before. The celestial fireworks started 170 years ago when a super-massive star called Eta Carinae exploded. After its explosion in the mid-1800s, it was the second brightest star in the nighttime sky on Earth and was used by mariners of the day for navigation.
The bubbles seen in the image were formed during the episode seen in the 1840s. The ballooning lobes are made of dust and gas along with other filaments blown out of the exploding star. The massive star may have weighed as much as 150 suns. The episode in the 1840s is known as the Great Eruption.
Since the Great Eruption, the star has faded and is now so dim it is barely visible to the naked eye. Hubble has used nearly all its tools in the last 25 years to study the star. The team says that it has now discovered that a large amount of warm gas ejected in the Great Eruption hasn’t yet collided with the other material surrounding Eta Carinae.
The blue outer streaks in the image outside the lower left lobe were created when the star’s light rays poke through the dust clumps scattered around the surface of the bubbles. Interestingly, some of the light from the great eruption is just now arriving at Earth due to something called a “light echo” allowing the eruption of the 1840s to be studied in more detail. Eventually, the star will become a supernova, which might have already happened, and we just haven’t seen the light.