"Live fast, die young" may sound like a life lesson, but it’s actually an astronomical observation, borne out by a spectacular image of a hot young star from the European Southern Observatory.
Today's image from the ESO focuses on WR22, a massive Wolf-Rayet star in the southern constellation Carina, more than 5,000 light-years from Earth. Wolf-Rayet stars are relatively rare cosmic stunners that blast their atmosphere outward into space millions of times more quickly than our sun. They've been compared to "ticking time bombs" in space. WR22 is part of a double-star system and weighs at least 70 times as much as the sun - which means there's lots of material to blast away.
The ESO image, taken using the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-meter telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile, shows how blasts of radiation coming from WR22 and other stars interact with the clouds of hydrogen gas that surround them in the Carina Nebula. For a wide-angle view of the scene, check out this picture. Another type of big-blasting star, the pre-supernova Eta Carinae, is located on the left side of the big picture.
Sometime in the next 10,000 years or so, Eta Carinae is expected to blow apart, putting on a huge (and, we hope, harmless) show. Seeing all this action from afar makes me glad that we live in a relatively quiet neighborhood of the Milky Way instead of the Carina Nebula's fireworks factory. For still more fireworks, check out our latest "Month in Space Pictures" slideshow.
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