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Hubble images unlock Keyhole Nebula mysteries

February 3, 2000
Web posted at: 2:37 PM EST (1937 GMT)

nebula
Carina or Keyhole Nebula spans 2,000 light-years  

(CNN) -- Striking pictures taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope reveal previously unseen details of a mysterious, complex structure within the Carina Nebula, according to Hubble scientists who released the images Thursday.

A composite of the images is dominated by a large circular feature, which is part of the Carina Nebula, also called the Keyhole Nebula. This region, about 8,000 light-years from Earth, is located near the famous explosive star Eta Carinae, which lies just outside the field of view toward the upper right.

The Carina Nebula contains several stars that are among the hottest and most massive known, each about 10 times as hot and 100 times as massive as the Sun.

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Star gazing

The circular keyhole structure contains both bright filaments of hot glowing gas and dark silhouetted clouds of cold molecules and dust, all of which move in rapid, chaotic motion.

The high resolution of the image reveal the relative three-dimensional locations of many of these features, as well as numerous small dark globules that could be collapsing to form new stars.

Two large dark dust clouds located near the bottom center and upper left edges of the image may eventually evaporate, or give birth to small star clusters if they contain sufficiently dense condensations.

The Carina Nebula, with an overall diameter of more than 200 light-years, is one of the outstanding features of the southern-hemisphere portion of the Milky Way. The diameter of the keyhole ring structure is about 7 light-years.

The Heritage Hubble Team assembled this montage from images taken from four telescope pointings in April 1999. The camera used six different color filters.



RELATED STORIES:
Hubble reopens celestial eye to Eskimo nebula, galactic zoom lens - January 24, 2000
Technology - Hubble catches a cosmic 'bubble' - January 18, 2000
Fireworks of star birth light up nearby galaxy - January 11, 2000
Stellar nursery in nearby galaxy teems with activity - September 29, 1999

RELATED SITES:
Space Telescope Science Institute Home Page
Astronomy Pictures from the Hubble Heritage Project: Table of Contents
NASA Homepage

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