The Homunculus
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The Homunculus

May 30, 2008

This new image of Eta Carinae has the shape of a 'little man' and surrounds a star doomed to explode within the next 100,000 years. Being brighter than one million Suns, Eta Carinae is the most luminous star known in the Galaxy. It is the closest example of a luminous blue variable, the last phase in the life of a very massive star before it explodes in a fiery supernova. Eta Carinae is surrounded by an expanding bipolar cloud of dust and gas known as the Homunculus ('little man' in Latin), which astronomers believe was expelled from the star during a great outburst seen in 1843.

This new image of the luminous blue variable was taken with the NACO near-infrared adaptive optics instrument on ESO's Very Large Telescope, yielding an incredible amount of detail. The images clearly shows a bipolar structure as well as the jets coming out from the central star.

The image was obtained by the Paranal Science team and processed by Yuri Beletsky (ESO) and Hännes Heyer (ESO). It is based on data obtained through broad (J, H, and K; 90 second exposure time per filters) and narrow-bands (1.64, 2.12, and 2.17 microns; probing iron, molecular and atomic hydrogen, respectively; 4 min per filter).

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