Scientists unravel mystery of humongous space explosion (+video)
Great Eruption of Eta Carinae, a massive star some 7,500 light-years away that suddenly lit up the night sky for a decade beginning in 1838 is one of the most studied objects in the Milky Way. But it continues to puzzle astronomers.
(Page 2 of 2)
Surprisingly, their observations suggest the Great Eruption is different from so-called "supernova impostors," events that resemble the explosive supernova deaths of stars but are thought to be eruptions from bright blue variables. For example, the Great Eruption was only about 8,540 degrees Fahrenheit (4,725 degrees Celsius), much cooler than allowed by the stellar winds used to explain supernova impostors.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"This star's Giant Eruption has been considered a prototype for all supernova imposters in external galaxies," said study co-author Jose Prieto, now at Princeton University. "But this research indicates that it is actually a rather unique event."
These new findings mean that researchers still do not know what caused the Great Eruption.
"With Eta Carinae, we are dealing with a really extreme phenomenon, which drags us into unexplored territory as far as theory is concerned," Rest said. "We do have some ideas — a collision between two stars in a binary system; an explosive but non-terminal thermonuclear burning event in the core of the star that might release energy — but these are really just ideas and have not been very well-developed, so we don't yet have clear predictions for the observed phenomena we expect to see."
The scientists now plan to look for more light echoes from the Great Eruption, to see how Eta Carinae altered over time, "and that will further help in constraining what the eruption mechanism is," Rest said.
The scientists detailed their findings in the Feb. 16 issue of the journal Nature.
- Top 10 Star Mysteries
- Oldest Supernova Ever Recorded Blossoms In Four-Scope View
- 50 Fabulous Deep-Space Nebula Photos