To celebrate the 31st anniversary of the launch of the NASA / ESA Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers aimed the famous observatory at one of the brightest stars in our galaxy to capture its beauty. NASA, ESA and STScI
Today marks the 31st anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope’s launch. To celebrate, researchers used the telescope to image one of the most famous stars in our galaxy. AG Carinae is one of the brightest stars in the Milky Way and emits an amount of light equivalent to 1 million suns. But because of the 20,000 light years distance and the large amount of dust between it and us, it is usually too faint to be seen with the naked eye.
However, the star can be seen with telescopes like Hubble, and by studying it you can get information about how extreme stars evolve and get a beautiful picture. The image uses data from both visible light and ultraviolet wavelengths, because in the ultraviolet range, scientists can more accurately see the dust structures surrounding the star.
Because AG Carinae is so bright, it burns a huge amount of fuel and is quite unstable. Hubble scientists describe it as “prone to seizures,” in which it inflates to a larger size than usual and releases layers of gas into space. These eruptions can shed a large amount of material and emit as much as ten times the mass of the sun. When one of these giant trains passed 10,000 years ago, the beautiful dust and gas bowl was created that gives the star its unmistakable appearance.
Stars like these don’t last long, at least in excellent ways – with a lifespan of a few million years – because they burn their fuel quickly and die young. The convulsive phase of such a very bright star is called a bright blue variable, and studying it provides the opportunity to see stars in extreme conditions.
“I like to study these types of stars because I am fascinated by their instability,” said Kerstin Weis, an expert on bright blue variables at the Ruhr University in Bochum, in the Hubble Declaration. “You’re doing something strange.”