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Eta Carinae: The Great Eruption of a Massive Star

Primary January 25th, 2022

Eta Carinae, or Eta Car, is famous for a brilliant and unusual outburst, called the "Great Eruption", observed in the 1840s. This visualization presents the story of that event and examines the resulting multiwavelength emissions and three-dimensional structures surrounding Eta Car today.

Massive stars are known to have major outbursts. Eta Car, one of the most massive star systems known, expelled about 10% of its mass in the Great Eruption, creating a small nebula, called the Homunculus Nebula, around it. Images taken in different wavelengths of light reveal different structures, each providing more information about the outbursts of Eta Car.

For this visualization, astronomers and artists have used NASA observations to model both the close-up and wide views of this massive and eruptive star. The Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-ray Observatory have observed the nested layers of gas and dust around Eta Car using visible, ultraviolet, and x-ray light, as well as in the Hydrogen Alpha emission line. The Spitzer Space Telescope provides a larger view of the Carina Nebula, along with Eta Car’s dominant position within this star-forming region.

This visualization is presented by the AstroViz Project of NASA’s Universe of Learning. Viewers gain appreciation for how the observations from two centuries ago connect to the resulting structures seen today. Full 360-degree 3D views help to assemble a complete mental model that aids interpretation of the NASA observations. Eta Car serves as a notable example of the outbursts in the dying stages of massive stars.

Credits: J. Olmsted, D. Player, L. Hustak, A. Pagan, J. DePasquale, G. Bacon, F. Summers (STScI), R. Hurt (Caltech/IPAC), NASA, ESA

Images: A. Fujii, J. Morse (BoldlyGo Inst), N. Smith (U Arizona), Hubble SM4 ERO Team, NASA, ESA, STScI, JPL-Caltech, CXC, ESO, NOAO, AURA, NSF

Music: “Interstellar Wanderer”, Joseph DePasquale, CC BY-NC 4.0

Press Release: 25 Jan 2022

Eta Carinae in ViewSpace

EtaCar VS Slider

Interactively view Eta Carinae across the spectrum.

EtaCar VS ECvid

Find out how different telescopes show us different faces of Eta Carinae.

ViewSpace offers engaging journeys into many astronomy topics. To find out more about stars similar to Eta Carinae check out these video collections: 

EtaCar VS MassiveStars List

Massive Stars

EtaCar VS StarLifeDeath List

Star Life & Death


EtaCar AP Hubble

Visible Light (Hubble)

EtaCar AP MulitObs

Multi-Wavelength (Hubble, Chandra)

EtaCar AP Grid

Full Collection of Images


Printable Lithograph (PDF)


EtaCar AP Xray

X-Ray Light (Chandra)

EtaCar AP Spitzer

Infrared Light (Spitzer)

EtaCar WWT

AAS WorldWide Telescope View

3D Printing

Photograph of 3D printed model of the Homunculus Nebula around the star Eta Carinae

3D Print of Eta Carinae

Hold Eta Carinae in your hand by making your own 3D print of the Homonculus Nebula! 

Make 3D prints of a variety of astronomical objects as they appear in the light of x-rays. Hold a massive star, a pulsar, or a supernova in your hand. Each object comes with a full description of its nature, along with 3D-printable files.

The Tactile Universe has many resources that are accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired using a combination of Braille, tactile techniques, and descriptions in both large format text and audio formats, as well as a collection of 3D prints of cosmic objects.

Hands-On STEM Activities

Paper Circuits is a STEM activity for learners of all ages explore the basics of electricity while building a simple circuit using paper and conductive tape. The completed project will be an illuminated astronomy image, like the exploded star pictured above.  


A Universe of Sound offers a whole new way to experience astronomical data through sonification. This collection offers astronomical audio experiences crafted from a variety of data, from a harmonic range of stars, nebulas, and galaxies. 

Learning Guides

The Girls STEAM Ahead with NASA Cookbook provides recipes for creating your own astronomical learning events. It includes ready-to-run scenarios, or can be a resource guide for building your own custom events.

NASA's Universe of Learning

NASA's Universe of Learning features a large selection of resources that explore the lives and deaths of stars, expanding upon the story of Eta Carinae. This listing can be filtered to highlight assets for specific audiences and purposes.

About AstroViz

Astronomical images are appreciated for their beauty, but they are also our windows into the vast and complex universe around us. Understanding how these abstract blends of color and form represent real, three dimensional structures is not always easy, even for astronomers who have spent their career studying them.

The goal of the AstroViz ("Astronomy Visualization") project is to take images from across the spectrum of light, and using the best current scientific understanding, extrapolate them into 3D forms that take us on virtual journeys to these distant locations. These cinematic experiences let everyone see how these are not just pictures... they are places. The stories of these places increase awareness, understanding, and enthusiasm for the universe.

AstroViz is one of a multitude of projects from NASA's Universe of Learning, which connects the public to the data, discoveries, and experts that spans NASA Astrophysics.

Browse all of the AstroViz videos at NASA's Universe of Learning