NASA Scientists Reveal Hidden Features Of Eta Carinae

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NASA astrophysicists studying the “stellar monster” Eta Carinae have revealed startling new details along with a 3D model of the star system. Eta Carinae is the brightest star system within 10,000 light years of the Earth. Located 7,500 light years away, it is a pair of enormous stars. The primary star is 90 times bigger and 5 million times brighter than our Sun. The secondary or companion star has 30 times greater mass than our Sun.

Eta Carinae sits in the constellation Carina

The smaller one orbits the larger one at a great speed. Every 5.5 years, the two stars come within just 140 million miles of each other (about the same distance between the Sun and Mars). It results into a burst of X-rays that we can see from the Earth, and a complicated interaction of solar wind flows. NASA scientists presented findings of the study at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle.

Eta Carinae is located in the constellation Carina. In the 1840s, a powerful explosion made it the second brightest star in the sky. It also gave birth to the rapidly expanding Homunculus Nebula. Years of observation from the ground and space telescopes helped astrophysicists develop a clearer picture of what is taking place. The two stars throw out huge amounts of gas in the form of “stellar winds” while orbiting each other in mismatched eclipses.

Supercomputer simulations of stellar winds

Goddard Space Center’s Dr Michael Corcoran said it’s quite a collision. When the two stars get too close, their “stellar winds” produce fireworks that echo across the vast space. NASA astronomers have modeled this collision in great details. Dr Tom Madura of Goddard Center has used detailed observations of Eta Carinae to create a supercomputer simulation of the two stars’ solar wind interaction.

The resulting video reveals fascinating, spiraling and dramatic effect as the stars reach closest to each other. To better visualize them, Dr Madura made a 3D-printed copy of the ragged border between solar winds of the two stars. These models had finger-like projections that scientists were surprised to see because even they didn’t know about the existence of these features.

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