When 19th century astronomer Sir John Herschel spied a swirling cloud of gas with a hole punched through it, he dubbed it the Keyhole Nebula. Now the Hubble telescope has taken a peek at this region, and the resulting image reveals previously unseen details of the Keyhole's mysterious, complex structure. The Keyhole is part of a larger region called the Carina Nebula (NGC 3372), about 8,000 light-years from Earth.
The keyhole is the circular feature that dominates the picture and is about 7 light-years wide. The round structure contains bright filaments of hot, glowing gas and dark silhouetted clouds of cold molecules and dust, all of which are in rapid, chaotic motion. Hubble's clear view also shows several small, dark globules that may be in the process of collapsing to form new stars. This region is a rich breeding ground for some of the hottest and most massive stars known, each about 10 times as hot and 100 times as hefty as the Sun. The famous explosive variable star Eta Carinae also lies just outside the upper right of the picture.
The Finger of God in Carina, or God's Birdie, (both names are informal) is a nebula of dust and gas, approximately 8000 light-years from the Solar System, spanning approximately two light years, and seen within the Keyhole Nebula (part, in turn, of the Carina Nebula), whose diameter is roughly 60 light years). Light from bright stars nearby are expected to have dissipated it within a few million years.
Deep in the skies of the Southern Hemisphere is the vast Carina Nebula, a 50 light-year wide menagerie of supernova remnants, star foundries, hot and cold gas clouds, dust pillars, and other exotic stellar matter, along with one of the most massive stars in the entire universe, Eta Carina, four million times as bright as our Sun.
At the upper left of the photo is a huge globule that astronomers have nicknamed “the finger of God”. This feature is similar in size to our entire solar system.
Previously unseen details of a mysterious, complex structure within the Carina Nebula (NGC 3372) are revealed by this image of the "Keyhole Nebula," obtained with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. The picture is a montage assembled from four different April 1999 telescope pointings with Hubble's Wide Field Planetary Camera 2, which used six different color filters.
The picture is dominated by a large, approximately circular feature, which is part of the Keyhole Nebula, named in the 19th century by Sir John Herschel. This region, about 8000 light-years from Earth, is located adjacent to the famous explosive variable star Eta Carinae, which lies just outside the field of view toward the upper right. The Carina Nebula also contains several other stars that are among the hottest and most massive known, each about 10 times as hot, and 100 times as massive, as our Sun.
The circular Keyhole structure contains both bright filaments of hot, fluorescing gas, and dark silhouetted clouds of cold molecules and dust, all of which are in rapid, chaotic motion. The high resolution of the Hubble images reveals the relative three-dimensional locations of many of these features, as well as showing numerous small dark globules that may be in the process of collapsing to form new stars.
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 shown here is about 7 light-years.
Image Type: Astronomical
Image Credit: NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI)
Release Date: February 3, 2000
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