NASA’s portrayal of a stellar dust up in Eta Carinae totally rocks (video)

8 Jan 2015

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Eta Carinae's great eruption in the 1840s created the billowing Homunculus Nebula, imaged here by Hubble. Image via NASA

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Eta Carinae, a binary system containing the most luminous and massive star within 10,000 light years, is both incredible and, now, easy to understand.

Two stars in the system come very close together every 5.5 years as their orbits nearly collide. The distance between the two stars at this point mirror the distance between our sun and Mars.

Both produce huge amounts of explosive gasses called stellar winds, “which enshroud the stars and stymie efforts to directly measure their properties.”

A long-term study by US space agency NASA has determined that the larger of the two stars is 90 times the mass of the sun, outshining it by 5bn times.


In this supercomputer simulation, the stars of Eta Carinae are shown as black dots. Lighter colors indicate greater densities in the stellar winds produced by each star. At closest approach, the fast wind of the smaller star carves a tunnel in the thicker wind of the larger star. Image via NASA

Through this research, NASA has created a video of what’s going on out there.

It shows a 3D model of the violent boundary where the stellar winds collide, revealing ‘fingers’ of protrusions at the point of contact.

“We didn’t really know these existed,” said NASA’s Thomas Madura, who led the simulation work.

“We think these are real physical features that arise due to the physical instabilities of this really fast wind from the secondary (star) colliding with what’s essentially a wall of gas from the primary star.

“I wanted to make 3D prints of the simulations to better visualise them, which turned out to be far more successful than I ever imagined.”

Check it out.

Gordon Hunt is senior communications and context executive at NDRC. He previously worked as a journalist with Silicon Republic.

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