NASA scientists believe they have found as many as five stars that bear a stunning resemblance to Eta Carinae, the brightest known superstar in the Milky Way.
Astronomers working with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA have made a stunning discovery. According to a Tech Times report, researchers studying Eta Carinae, the biggest and brightest solar system in the Milky Way, have discovered up to five potential twin stars by examining their infrared and optical fingerprint in the sky.
Over the course of 2012 to 2014, a NASA team scanned seven different galaxies but were unable to find any stars that resembled Eta Carinae. Last year, the team followed up on their surveys and discovered two possible Eta twins in the M83 galaxy, situated roughly 15 million light-years from the Earth. Subsequent followups revealed three additional potential Eta twins, in the galaxies M101, M51, and NGC6946, ranging from 18 to 26 million light-years from the Earth.
Much like Eta Carinae, the five stars located by NASA researchers could conceal a massive star beneath a huge cloud of gas and dust. The findings were published in the December 2015 edition of The Astrophysical Journal Letters. Further studies will need to be carried out in order to determine whether each of the five stars are truly similar to the supermassive Eta Carinae, but the discovery once again confirms that the forces driving stellar and galactic formation throughout the universe are relatively similar.
Eta Carinae became notorious in the mid-1800s after it withstood a massive stellar explosion. This explosion launched a shroud of debris and gas with roughly 10 times the sun’s mass into space.
The dust from the explosion is still settling around Eta Carinae, which gives it its unique shape. The star is roughly 7,500 light-years from the Carina constellation, but is so bright that it outshines our own sun by a factor of almost 5 million. Eta Carinae is actually a binary system, made of two massive stars. The larger one is roughly 90 times the sun’s mass, and the smaller is only 30 times the sun’s mass. The system’s proximity to Earth’s position in the Milky Way makes it the perfect subject for studying massive stars and the forces that drive their evolution.
A press release from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory describing the massive stars can be found here.