The Rudest Space Cloud in the Known Universe

The Rudest Space Cloud in the Known Universe
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In 1999, astronomers controlling the Hubble Space Telescope zoomed in on a section of the Carina Nebula, approximately 8,000 light years away, and snapped the picture shown above. The image depicts a dense cloud of gas roughly two light years in length that has broken off the greater nebula. The cloud is "striking," NASA noted in 2003, "because its clear definition stimulates the human imagination."

"It could be perceived as a superhero flying through a cloud, arm up, with a saved person in tow below."

That's not what I see...

While NASA deserves respect for keeping things G-rated, that cloud can only be accurately described as the grandest middle-finger salute in the known universe; a giant, cosmic "%@#$ you."

A perceptive redditor spotted the vulgar resemblance two weeks ago.

The rude stellar object is a molecular cloud of gas and dust, dense enough and large enough to permit molecules to form. In the image above, the bright red specks shining to the left are young stars that grew inside.

What I will term the "%@#$ you" cloud is part of the vastly larger Carina Nebula (seen above), which spans over 300 light years. The nebula was discovered by French astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille in 1751. Larger and brighter than the more famous Orion Nebula, the Carina Nebula is home to Eta Carinae, the best-studied luminous hypergiant star. Eta Carinae is 100-150 times as massive as our sun and four million times brighter! Because the star is so huge, it flirts with the Eddington limit, the point where a star's radiation is powerful enough to overcome the gravity that keeps it together. In other words, the star is precariously walking the line of exploding as a supernova or even a hypernova. Astronomers actually expect this to occur within the next million years.

Should that happen, we here on Earth will, in all likelihood, be just fine. The "%@#$ you" cloud, however, may suffer a brute form of stellar censorship.

(Images: Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), N. Walborn (STScI) & R. Barbß (La Plata Obs.), NASA. & ESO)

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