The Carina nebula is a turbulent cloud of gas, dust about 7,600 light-years from here, a birthplace and graveyard for some of the Milky Way’s hottest and most massive stars.
The nebula is home to some of the most luminous and potentially explosive stars in the galaxy. Among them in particular is Eta Carinae, a double star system of which the stormy, primary member is as massive as 200 suns and is five million times the luminosity of the star that fills your daytime sky. Over the years, the primary star has emitted periodic eruptions as it has aged and quaked. At least 20 solar masses of gas and dust have been expelled into the nebula, which have obscured Eta Carinae itself, as well as the other denizens of the nebula.
Infrared radiation can penetrate dust, so astronomers hope to find out more about the stars being formed in the roiling nebula and about Eta Carinae itself, which seems to be on the road to exploding as a supernova one of these days or centuries.
“It took me awhile to figure out what to call out in this image,” said Amber Straughn, deputy project scientist for the telescope.
Dr. Straughn added that she could not help thinking about the sense of scale in the Webb’s image of the nebula, filled as it is with individual stars with planets of their own.
“We humans really are connected to the universe,” she said. “We’re made out of the same stuff in this landscape.”