Cosmic Pillars of Carina Nebula Dominate New Hubble View

A new photo from the Hubble Space Telescope shows hugepillars of hydrogen gas and dust in the Carina Nebula about 7,500 light-yearsfrom Earth.

The pillars are about 1 light-year tall, scientists say.That's nearly 6 trillion miles (9.7 trillion km), more than 60,000 timesgreater than the distance from the Earth to the sun. And the structures aren'tgiants by Carina standards: some of the nebula's pillars are three times asbig. [Photo of Carina Nebula pillars.]

The columns, and the other odd shapes in the photo, aresculpted by violent stellar winds and radiation from the nebula's massivestars. The dense structures in the image may be nurseries, regions birthing newstars.

The Hubble telescope's new image is a composite of observationstaken in 2005 of the region's hydrogen light and new observations of the area'satomic oxygen content.

The CarinaNebula is found in the constellation of the same name (Carina: the Keel).It spans about 100 light-years, making it four times larger than the famousOrion Nebula. Carina is a very bright nebula with intensive star-formingregions.

Carina has a powerful glow, which comes mainly from hothydrogen basking in the strong radiation of monsterbaby stars. The immense nebula contains over a dozen stars with at least 50to 100 times the mass of our sun. Such stars don't live very long ? a fewmillion years at most, compared to the sun's expected lifespan of about 10billion years.

One of the universe's most impressive stars, Eta Carinae,is found in Carina. Eta Carinae is one of the biggest stars in the Milky Way.At more than 100 times the mass of the sun and about four million timesbrighter, it's the most luminous star known. Eta Carinae is highly unstable,and prone to violent outbursts, most notably a falsesupernova event in 1842.

The HubbleSpace Telescope launched in April 199 and is still going strong 20 yearslater. To date, Hubble has observed more than 30,000 celestial targets andamassed more than a half-million pictures in its archive.

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