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Eta Carinae Nebula

Carina Nebula, Great Nebula in Carina, Keyhole Nebula,
C92, NGC 3372

Proper NamesCarina Nebula, Eta Carinae Nebula, Great Nebula in Carina, Keyhole Nebula
Caldwell NumberC92
NGC/IC NumberNGC 3372
Right Ascension10h 44m 19s
Declination-59° 53' 21"
Distancec.7,500 light years
c.2,300 parsecs
Magnitude+6.2 (illuminating star)
Mean DiameterApparent: c.3°
Actual: c.400 light years
Associated Star(s)Eta Carinae
Optimum VisibilityMarch (Usually visible from southern latitudes)
NotesThis is a vast and varied nebula complex, busy with clusters and other features, surrounding the intensely active Eta Carinae system. The system itself is surrounded by the billowing Homunculus Nebula while nearby the bright clouds of material are obscured by the dark Keyhole Nebula.

The region of space around the star Eta Carinae is a complex and turbulent area. Against the wide backdrop of the Eta Carinae Nebula can be seen an expanding region of dark gas - the 'Keyhole' of the Keyhole Nebula.

This image is centred on the hypergiant Eta Carinae, though the star itself is not visible here against the bright gases of the Eta Carinae Nebula surrounding it. The dark lane to the south of Eta Carinae is known as the Keyhole Nebula. Imagery provided by Aladin sky atlas

The Nebula consists of a huge cloud of ionised hydrogen surrounding the extraordinary star Eta Carinae. Eta Carinae itself is a binary system, consisting of two massive stars in a mutual embrace, each casting off spherical shrouds of matter to form a peculiar dumb-bell shape. It is one of the most massive and luminous stars known, and also one of the most variable. In the mid-nineteenth century, it was one of the brightest stars in the sky, but has now faded very considerably.

Surrounding the hourglass of Eta Carinae is an extensive cloud of ionised gas, within which several star clusters are in the process of forming. Clouds of dark obscuring dust swarm through the nebula, too, and the most prominent of these is the Keyhole Nebula, a vast and rapidly expanding dark cloud in the central parts of the main nebula.


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