The elemental structure of the Carina Nebula
AAO image reference UKS 41.    « Previous || Next »

The IC 4765 galaxy cluster in Pavo
Top left is NE. Image width is about 30 arcmin.
© 2010, Australian Astronomical Observatory. Photograph by David Malin from UK Schmidt Telescope plates.


The vast Carina Nebula is about 7000 light-years distant and is lit by numerous, very hot stars, many of which have recently form from the dust and gas in which they are embedded. The gas is mostly hydrogen but there's also traces of oxygen, sulphur and other elements present. The ultraviolet light causes these elements to glow. Their emission spectrum contains a few very bright lines at wavelengths precisely defined by the atomic structure of the element itself, and its from such spectra that the elements present in the nebula -- and their location -- can be derived.

This picture was made from three separate black-and-white exposures, using special filters designed that captured only the ultraviolet-blue light of oxygen, or the green oxygen-emission line (shown as red) or the deep red colour of ionised sulphur (shown as green). These separate photographs were combined to produce this false-colour picture to show the location and ionisation states of these trace elements in the nebula. With such a combination of filters it is not it is not possible to reproduce the broad-band colours stars in anything other than the green-yellow seen here.

Related images
AAT 9.   The Eta Carina Nebula NGC 3372
AAT 32.  Eta Carina and the Keyhole nebula
AAT 37.  Eta Carina and Trumpler 14
AAT 45.  The Homunculus around Eta Carina
UKS 6.   The Great Nebula in Carina, NGC 3372
UKS 6a. The Great Nebula in Carina, NGC 3372 (wide field)
Constellation of Carina (external site)

For details of object position and photographic exposure, search technical table by UKS reference number.

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Updated by David Malin, 2010, July 25