Eta Carinae and the Keyhole Nebula
AAO image reference AAT 32.     « Previous || Next »

Eta Carinae and the Keyhole Nebula, NGC 3372  carina.jpg, ngc3372.jpg
Top left is NE. Image width is about 6 arc min
Image and text © 1985-2010, Australian Astronomical Observatory, photograph by David Malin.

This wonderfully complex region at the heart of the NGC 3372 nebula was first described in detail by Sir John Herschel in 1838. He saw the bright circular shell visible in the upper part of the picture extending to the south to form a keyhole-shaped nebula. This luminous outline is no longer seen and the southern extension appears only as a dark dust cloud. It seems that the curious, explosively variable star Eta Carinae has enveloped itself in a cocoon of obscuring matter in the years since Herschel's observations and light from the star is no longer able to illuminate the rim of the dust cloud.

The nebula thrown off by eta Carinae in Herschel's time has grown to the tiny orange nebula seen to the left of the dust cloud and is known as the Homunculus nebula. It has also ejected some rapidly moving spikes seen on a black and white photograph made some years ago at the f/8 focus of the AAT. Structure in the Homunculus itself is well seen on the famous HST picture. The whole nebula complex is in Carina at a distance of about 7000 light years.

Related Images
AAT 9.    Eta Carina and the Keyhole nebula
AAT 37.  Eta Carina and Trumpler 14
AAT 45.  The Homunculus around Eta Carina
UKS 6.   The Great Nebula in Carina, NGC 3372
UKS 6a. The Great Nebula in Carina, NGC 3372 (wide field)
UKS 41   The elemental structure of the Carina Nebula (emission lines)
Constellation of Carina (external site)

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Updated by David Malin, 2010, August 1