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NGC 3372 – Eta Carinae and the "Keyhole" Nebula

Description of object:
The Eta Carinae nebula (or short Carina-Nebula) is one of the biggest star birth regions in the milky way and can easily be seen with the naked eye in its southern part. The distance is estimated to be somewhere between 6500 and 10000 light years. With a diameter of approximately 2 degrees in the sky, the absolute dimension of the nebula is 200 light years. The picture shown above contains only the central region of the nebula, which covers about the same area in the sky as the moon.

Eta Carinae is one of the heaviest stars in the milky way. Its luminosity is an unbelievable 4 million times stronger than that of the sun. It is situated in a double star system and well known for eruptions and accompanying changes in brightness. The last big eruption was between 1837 and 1856. During this period Eta Carinae ejected a large amount of gas, which now envelopes the star as a thin but very bright layer called the Homunkulus nebula. Because of its brightness it's one of the few deep sky objects that have a color (in this case orange) when viewed through a telescope.

A picture of a section of the Homunkulus nebula which was taken by the Hubble telescope is shown here. The Keyhole Nebula is an area on the Carina-Nebula , which is in front of the brighter parts and absorbs the light in the form of a key hole.

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