The death of a binary star is not a peaceful affair. It is a violent event, where the stars throw their outer material and expel radiation into space. It is a process that can take a long time - the more massive the star, the more spectacular the event of death.

Eta Carinae, a binary star 7,500 light-years away, is indeed quite massive. Its two stars reach 90 and 30 times the mass of the Sun. So it is no wonder that the death of the star couple is a jaw dropping - and the event has lasted for almost 200 years.

Eta Carinae erupted magnificently in 1838, in what is known as the Great Eruption. In April 1844, it was the second brightest object in the night sky. She threw a lot of material into space, up to 40 times the mass of the Sun, and this material envelops the stars like the Homunculus Nebula.

The dying binary star has not done anything so impressive since, but new images taken using the Hubble Space Telescope show that it is still active within the bright cloud of its own corpse.

To capture the new breathtaking images, astronomers used the telescope's Wide Field Camera 3 instrument. The goal of the research was to map the glowing magnesium element into ultraviolet light. They certainly did not expect to find it in the space between nitrogen and bubbles. But there it was. You can see it in the image below, shown in blue.

Eta Carinae. (Credits: NASA / ESA)

This means that before the ejection of these brilliant bubbles into the Great Eruption, the star was probably already losing material. We simply could not see it before because it is not on a visible wavelength and we were not looking with the right instruments.

Meanwhile, we have no idea when Eta Carinae is going to explode, since we cannot really see the stars inside the nebula to find out more about them. May be tomorrow. It may be tens of thousands of years from now. But we hope humans are still around to see this.

You can find the image in high resolution here, including full size wallpaper versions. [ ScienceAlert ]