February 15th, 2012
01:01 PM ET

Our crazy neighbor just got more bizarre

We all have a crazy neighbor, whether we realize it or not.

Sound familiar? This hot-headed, fiery personality is one of the biggest kids on the block - huge in fact. This kid is a little unstable, with a history of doing things that are hard to figure out. And what a clothes-horse this one is - all wrapped up in amazing colors. Oh yeah, and there's a little irritating sibling who comes around every so often.

Our "neighbor" is a star about 120 times bigger than our sun and lives relatively nearby - about 7,500 light years away. It goes by the name Eta Carinae. It's possibly the most studied object outside our own solar system.

Mainly Eta is famous for its mysterious temper tantrum of astronomical proportions that rocked the galaxy back in the 1840s. The tantrum, dubbed the Great Eruption, ignited Eta for just a few years to become among the brightest stars in the night sky  before it drastically faded, all for reasons unknown.

Eta is only one of two giant eruptions known in our galaxy in the past 1,000 years. (The other is P Cygni, first observed in the 17th century.)

Now, scientists at Maryland's Space Telescope Science Institute  have learned something new about Eta, and they are offering details in a study to be published Wednesday in the science journal Nature.

A team led by Armin Rest says it has identified - for the first time - light echoes of the Great Eruption.

The light echoes, which provide direct scientific data from the Great Eruption, are sort of like fingerprints, says Rest. And they cast doubt on a popular theory about what caused the Great Eruption.

Learning more about what irritates Eta might help us find out more about the evolution of stars and the formation of the basic elements of the universe.

Eta, which is hundreds of thousands of years old, is close to the end of its life. It's much younger than our 5-billion-year-old sun, which is expected to remain the same for another 5 billion years. But Eta is so big that it's burning its fuel a lot faster than smaller stars.

In fact, Eta could explode in a supernova tomorrow - or anytime within the next 1 million years, says Rest. When that happens, the massive explosion will be visible on Earth during the day. But don't worry, it likely wouldn't have any other effect.

Theories about the Great Eruption put limits on how far Eta's temperature could have dropped at the time. But data from the light echoes shows Eta's surface got thousands of degrees cooler than expected - 8,540 degrees Fahrenheit, instead of the predicted 12,140. That throws water on the accepted Great Eruption theory called the opaque wind model.

That theory: the buildup of pressure inside the star blew off some of its surface area and let loose a mind-boggling amount of light. Now, "it seems like there must be something else" behind the eruption, says Rest, "and it's really unclear what it is."

The epic blow-out of material from the Great Eruption wrapped the star in a spectacular gaseous shroud called the homunculus nebula. It may be pretty to look at, but it gets in the way of scientists trying to learn more about Eta and its smaller sibling, an orbiting star discovered in 2005.

It's "wimpy," says Rest, comparing the companion star to a fly landing on a human nose. But he says he's "pretty convinced that it has something to do with the Great Eruption."

So when you think about it, it's pretty amazing to realize that light echoes can still reveal details about something that happened nearly 170 years ago. How does that work?

"These light echoes are not so easy to find," says Rest, but based on color, direction, motion and other factors, they can be identified. Basically, they're light from the Great Eruption that has been bouncing off gas, dust and other particles for all these years.

Some of the light is reaching us after bouncing off dust located behind Eta, which offers a chance to study Eta's backside, so to speak.

Before he first stumbled on Eta's light echoes a year ago, Rest was very doubtful about finding traces of this very old eruption. He normally studies light echoes from supernovas, which are very bright. "I had an hour of time at the end of the night, and I thought, 'it can never hurt, let's have a look.' "

"They're probably not even there," he recalls thinking. But after looking at the fourth of fifth image, he realized his expectations were wrong.

"I said, 'Oh my God, that's a light echo!' I've seen lots of them before, and so normally I can recognize light echoes pretty well," Rest remembers. "I was floored. I truly was floored."

The discovery has opened a door for Rest to conduct more light echoes research on Eta Carinae, perhaps fill in more blanks about the Great Eruption and maybe help solve one of astronomy's most vexing mysteries.

Post by:
Filed under: In Space • News
soundoff (144 Responses)
  1. Cesare

    Thanks Maree and Anne!Kylie, the heroine looks very much like I imeingad her I think the cover artist must be psychic! I'm checking on the blurb, not sure if it's final yet.

    September 13, 2012 at 2:11 am |
  2. Just saying

    Seems the only thing that could explain it is another object of significant size merged with it.

    April 3, 2012 at 2:16 pm |


    February 16, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
  4. SciHatch

    Go Science!!! Keep proving astronomy and astronomical phenomena are REAL...and NOT magical events caused by a spoken word or flick of a supernatural finger. HEE HEE!

    February 16, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • Ameenah and Wayland

      Look between the two spheres at the top. If you look closely you can see a face that looks quite similiar to Jesus. Interesting.

      February 16, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
      • -_-

        I hope your not serious...

        February 16, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • brad

      If you are refering to the Creator God in your post your not making much sense. No clear headed person would deny these events are real... the debate comes when talking about the cause. Why is a theory that it all just happened but nobody knows why considered scientific and an explanation that there is an infinitly intelligent creator of the universe who made it just absolutely absurd? An act happening with no idnetifiable cause sounds more like magic to me... A Creator for those events is at least something. Ever consider that "scientific" events like the Big Bang could have been caused by a Creator?

      February 16, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
    • Loris

      I didn't want to mention that yet busceae I didn't want to be responsible for sparking a dogpile, particularly since things are really stressful here IRL, and I didn't want to strike a match and then walk away. I don't know if she's aware of the situation or not. I just feel like it would be irresponsible of me to set dozens of people on her.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:33 pm |
  5. gliese42

    A powerful burst of gamma rays from a dying star at the right point has the capability to destroy earth

    February 16, 2012 at 8:38 am |
    • Jonathan/Danny

      How bout them Detroit Tigers Prince Fielder!!!!!!!

      February 16, 2012 at 9:19 am |
    • Conanzulu

      You have no idea of what you are talking about. Too many movies.

      February 16, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
      • zombie

        Actually he does, if the earth was hit by a gamma ray burst it would strip the earth of its atmosphere in a matter of seconds, and all life on earth would be dead.

        February 16, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
      • I'm The Best!

        It would have to be a big star and have to be VERY close to us. As in 1 or 200 light years. None that close are near the end of their lives so I think we're okay

        February 16, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
  6. Rick Boozer

    I shot a much better photo of Eta Carinae several years ago than the one they show here. If anyone is interested, you can see it here: http://singularsci.com//Welcome2009.htm

    February 16, 2012 at 7:50 am |
  7. Cortanis

    Well, with Mass Effect 3 coming out, I have to say some thing. The collecters did it. :p

    February 16, 2012 at 1:57 am |
    • JG

      You exist because we allow it, and you will end because we demand it.

      February 16, 2012 at 2:22 am |
    • Charles

      That's crazy talk. You don't understand the -ASSUMING DIRECT CONTROL! I AM THE HARBINGER OF YOUR FATE.

      February 16, 2012 at 4:42 am |
  8. TheTroof

    Maybe the "author" of this article is taking into account Rothschild anomalies and potential influence by aliens in the future? Oh yea, and they are coming here to change our history so they can produce their hybrid human babies to colonize Saturn?? Yea!!! That must be it!!! What a FANTASTIC and SMART writer "Thom Patterson" is!!! I'm SURE he will be picked up by ALL the scientific journals in a second. Maybe even a NOBEL PRIZE!!! WOW!!!!!!!

    February 16, 2012 at 1:44 am |
    • I = rubber, U = glue

      What are you babbling about?

      Your posts are an epic fail at trying to show how smart you are and how dumb the CNN writer is.

      February 16, 2012 at 10:46 am |
  9. TheTroof

    Stopped reading this "article" when I read the "cooler than expected – 8,540 degrees Fahrenheit" statement. I find that really funny as ABSOLUTE ZERO (The COLDEST ANYTHING CAN BECOME) is -459.67F. And "it likely wouldn't have any other effect." Wow, maybe if people went totally BSC when they saw a star during the day would it POSSIBLY affect anything!!!!

    CNN, do yourselves a favor and fire this "Thom Patterson" before he drags you into another controversy with misquoted and WRONG statements.

    Maybe the next "article" he does will be about Newt's thriving colony on the moon, eh?

    February 16, 2012 at 1:40 am |
    • MOCaseA

      Wow... You got hit with the stupid hammer pretty often as a child didn't you?

      "But data from the light echoes shows Eta's surface got thousands of degrees cooler than expected – 8,540 degrees Fahrenheit, instead of the predicted 12,140." Please note the space between the – and the 8. That indicates a supporting notation, not a negative number. What the statement says is that the estimated temperature of the surface of the star was 8,540 degrees as opposed to the previously expected temperature of 12,140 degrees.

      February 16, 2012 at 1:49 am |
      • Mike Houston

        Thanks, MO, for setting Troof straight. Is youth the explanation for his/her inability to read?
        I hope so...

        February 16, 2012 at 3:13 am |
    • insert name here

      yiu know that he said – 8000f COOLER than expected^^
      like a sun wich is guessed to be 10 000k hot is only 5000k hot...so its 5000k COOLER than expected–
      in this point he is right, and you didnt understand what he meant

      February 16, 2012 at 4:59 am |
    • I = rubber, U = glue

      "Stopped reading this "article" when I read the "cooler than expected – 8,540 degrees Fahrenheit" statement."

      Its obvoius you stopped reading the article. The weird thing is if you could have hung in there for 4 or 5 more words, you would look a little less silly than you do. Reading is tough, ask mommy to proofread your posts next time.

      February 16, 2012 at 9:05 am |
    • Ron

      Oh. My. God. That is the only reply such a stupid comment and attack on the author this post deserves.

      February 16, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  10. McGuffin

    Why do people feel they have to go overboard personifying astronomy in order to make it interesting? It's always great when the news actually runs a science story, but geez, it was painful wading through the nonsense in this one to get to any kind of actual information.

    February 16, 2012 at 1:09 am |
  11. Do the math

    Eta whatever is 7,500 light years away and "they" say "When that happens, the massive explosion will be visible on Earth during the day. But don't worry,..." Yeah, it'll be visible... in 7,500 years. I can't hardly wait. [What? Me worry?]

    February 16, 2012 at 12:45 am |
    • jc

      unless the supernova exploded 7499 years, 364 days ago, then we could see that tomorrow.

      February 16, 2012 at 12:58 am |
    • borntothebreed7

      Um, you REALLY don't get it, do you? If it exploded 7,499 years ago, we might see the light from the explosion tomorrow. Please try to use logic in your posts in the future, because, as it is, you make ZERO sense.

      February 16, 2012 at 1:02 am |
      • kuhner57

        you would not see light tomorrow....that made perfect sense...and this is why I worry about America

        February 16, 2012 at 1:49 am |
  12. Independent Mind

    "Eta could explode in a supernova tomorrow . . . When that happens, the massive explosion will be visible on Earth during the day"

    Uh; NO! It would not be visible until another 7,500 years.

    February 15, 2012 at 11:54 pm |
    • Barry

      Pretty sure that they meant we could see it tomorrow or in another million years. It could have happened 7500 years ago, hence to our perspective it would happen tomorrow.

      February 16, 2012 at 12:01 am |
      • Independent Mind

        How about this? "Eta could have exploded 7,500 years ago, in which case it would be visible in our time in broad daylight . . ." I knew what the author meant but just wanted to point out how poorly it was written.

        February 16, 2012 at 12:18 am |
    • lolsigh

      of course it was poorly written, CNN wrote it, not a REAL scientific journal...

      February 16, 2012 at 12:41 am |
  13. koolguy

    what's interesting is that this star may have already exploded but because of the distance of the star and the relation of the speed of light, its light won't reach us for a certain amount of time. space is amazing

    February 15, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
    • sonic10158

      the sun could also be out and we not know for another 9 minutes. Also, the speed at which the universe is expanding is speeding up, not slowing down.

      I enjoy learning about astronomy and Physics

      February 15, 2012 at 11:36 pm |
      • kevin

        Thats 8 minutes not nine. check it out. Hey it's an extra minute to live.

        February 16, 2012 at 2:06 am |
  14. john5021

    As we float around the known universe, We might want to consider that that is only about .00000000010 of the entire whole. So many new and amazing things yet to discover. We're on the outer rim of our own galaxy, and if we were nearer the center we wouldn't even have a chance to see as much as we do now. So much to learn and so little time. Course, doesn't quantum physics say that time really doesn't exist?

    February 15, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
    • borntothebreed7

      Glad you could make up that "fact" for us, john. It's not based in any actual scientific theory, that's for sure. In fact, we don't even know if the universe is flat or curved; if the universe is flat, it could actually be infinite in size. And, even if the universe is curved, and therefore finite in size, scientists do not have any concept of the true size of the universe. So, you just go on making up "facts" and believing them. Just don't try to pass them off as true to those of us who have brains.

      February 16, 2012 at 1:07 am |
    • walkloud

      Quantum physics does not imply that time does not exist. Special relativity (Einstein) taught us that the passage of time is not unique, but rather it depends upon your reference frame (relative velocity to another person/frame). What we think of as distances in space or time get mixed together to another observer moving with a velocity relative to us. The theory of General Relativity (also Einstein) incorporates acceleration into the picture, and similar mixings of space and time occur. These concepts sound fantastical, but once you can understand the math, they are actually quite mundane and simple. But it does require a mathematical understanding to really wrap your head around it (in my experience).

      Regarding where we are in our galaxy, in fact, if we were much closer in, we most likely would not be here to think about it because there would be too much radiation which would have destroyed complex life forms. Also, if we were much further out, we wouldn't be here because there would be too little radiation (radiation in some amounts encourages mutation which is essential for evolution). There are very many important issues like this that we believe are required for complex (multi-celled) life to form. There is a fascinating book that discusses all these issues called "Rare Earth", definitely worth a read.

      February 16, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
  15. Mcccccccc

    Actually, the "great eruption" would have happened 7670 years ago, not 170 years ago. Kind of crazy to think the star could have exploded 7000 years ago and we still wouldn't see it for another 500 years.

    February 15, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
  16. Devout

    If we were meant to look at the stars the baby Jeebus would have given us telescopes for eyes. Do not dabble in the dark arts of Science! GOP 2012!

    February 15, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
    • bobby

      Do you hate Muslims as much as you hate Christians?

      February 15, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
      • LogiK

        Let me put it this way – if not for Religious People and the GOP we'd have Starships by now.

        February 15, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
      • swisscottage

        LogiK – without the GOP we'd be speaking Russian, or perhaps even German. The peaceful, socialist utopia that you've created in your mind wouldn't last two seconds in the real world.

        February 15, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
      • ZZ2011

        Without the GOP we would be speaking Russian? Seriously people, politics is pseudo-reality. Science IS reality.

        February 15, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
      • calmdown

        you do all realize he was joking, right?

        February 15, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
      • Up Yours

        You give the Republicans way too much credit.

        February 16, 2012 at 12:09 am |
    • ZZ2011


      February 15, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
    • Richard

      What's worse, believing in Jesus like the Repubs, or believing money grows on trees, like the Democrats? BTW, this president has about much interest in science as a cow does in high finance.

      February 16, 2012 at 12:09 am |
    • toadears

      This makes me a bad Christian but sometimes, I am sorry to say, I actually enjoy the fact that smart mouthed kids who will soon be cannon fodder for WWIII don't believe. It's sad but true. I really just don't care about human pieces of temporary dust who mock everything bigger than themselves.

      February 16, 2012 at 12:14 am |
      • ZZ2011

        toadears; But God gave us brain to think with; we can't watch our true history be hijacked by nonsense anymore, we need to use our brains and eliminate what does not make sense. God said we were created in 'their' image.

        February 16, 2012 at 12:46 am |
      • clearfog

        But I thought the dust to dust was not temporary, but lived forever by the grace of god.

        February 16, 2012 at 1:26 am |
  17. cpc65

    When you wish upon a sta...(BOOM!!!) Errrr, never mind.

    February 15, 2012 at 10:32 pm |
    • Prince Tamino

      Ha! Gave me a chuckle!

      February 15, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
  18. daftshadow

    Is it safe to say the Reapers are coming on March 6, 2012?

    February 15, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
    • CmdrShepard

      I see what you did there 😀

      Tuarian Councilor: "Ah yes, Reapers, mythical immortal sentient starships waiting on the edge of darkspace." (Beat) "We have dismissed these claims"

      February 15, 2012 at 11:55 pm |
    • Commander Shepard

      I'm commander Shepard, and I just took an arrow to the knee.

      February 16, 2012 at 2:29 am |
  19. teaformorons

    Hold your horses. did you say 7500 years back? what a bunch of morons. God created that star only 6000 years (and 5 days) back. check your facts and telescopes you stupid scientists... shame on you. I hope they close down all universities and science centers that are corrupting our minds.

    February 15, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
    • coffeefortheenlightened

      I own a horse. Trollolol!

      February 15, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
    • WickedFairy

      Oh be careful one of slight mind. The vast majority of universities and colleges are filled with Liberal Lefty Red Dogs. Your fang may want to bight your forked tongue. May your least favorite Mother-in-Law raise her hind leg and deposit a Trinidad Morgua Scorpion upon your tongue that writhes its way down your throat to happiness.

      February 15, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
      • teaformorons

        The liberals who teach science must be punished. I love it when morons take any article anywhere and turn it into liberals vs conservatives issue. Nice article, hope we get to see this supernova during our lifetime. that would be cool!

        February 15, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
      • coffeefortheenlightened

        Tea4morons: Dude if you don't live under a bridge somewhere and terrorize billygoats then you are seriously in need of something beyond your 6th grade edgy-kation.

        February 15, 2012 at 10:34 pm |
    • Devout

      Rick InSanatorium told me that Science is bad and women belong in the kitchen!

      February 15, 2012 at 10:33 pm |
      • CmdrShepard

        He's a frothy fecal failure and the perfect corn holed closet case for the GOP (I know cheap shot, deal with it)

        February 15, 2012 at 11:59 pm |
      • Up Yours

        If one's wife looked like Santorum's a good place would be the garage.

        February 16, 2012 at 12:12 am |
    • mark

      speaking of morons, I don't personally know any Christians that believe in a 6,000 year old universe

      February 15, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
      • oussu

        You definitely don't live in the south then. I know several of them. They will tell you with a straight face that dinosaurs walked the Earth at the same time as Adam and Eve. Apparently Adam was one helluva track star to outrun T-rex.

        February 15, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
    • me

      Does the Bible say 6000 years?...

      February 15, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
      • sonic10158

        No, it just says "in the beginning"

        February 15, 2012 at 11:27 pm |
      • J

        The bible says creation took 6 days, the 6th of which was the day he created Adam. There are genealogies listed from Adam that get people to the ~6000 year number.

        February 16, 2012 at 12:15 am |
    • LogiK

      What do you have against Mormons!

      February 15, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
    • sonic10158

      as always, the shallow minded democrats are spinning politics into this. Nowhere in the bible does it say the universe was created 6000 years ago. It says the universe was created "in the beginning" when god said "Let there be light" and there was light. Switch out God for something and "let there be light" for big bang and you got yourself the Big Bang Theory. See, Christians and atheists pretty much believe the same beginning for the universe, minus who/what caused it to happen.

      I am a Christian, but I do believe in scientific progress. I can believe in both because Science and religion are two separate things

      February 15, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
      • Holy than thou

        Belief in God is stating a claim that God does indeed exist. I welcome you or any other believer to prove that claim. Stating that you have faith or that the bible says it so it must be true is not proof.

        February 15, 2012 at 11:54 pm |
      • goddog

        I hate to rain on your "I just want to believe what makes me comfortable" parade but, If you do the math, taken from Genesis, and work your way backwards, It's about 6,000 years since god created earth and man. You are right though that religion and science are two entirely different things. the problem is, whatever the mechanism is that you use to "believe" both is just an illusion of your own design. Allot of the "truths" in the bible have already been disproved by science. that's not to say that there isn't a god/creator, it's just not one that anyone could know. Namaste.

        February 16, 2012 at 12:24 am |
      • McAfee

        Sorry, but the bible says the Earth existed before the Sun. We know this to be impossible, and that the sun and all other stars necessarily predate the Earth. Consequently, we can see even a metaphorical interpretation of Genesis is inconsistent with the current scientific consensus.

        February 16, 2012 at 1:10 am |
      • Tom J

        Not to split hairs, but it is quite possible the Earth was a substantial ball of rock before the sun got to the size to initiate fusion. Since fusion is the major requirement that makes a star a star, the Earth could have very well existed before the sun.

        February 16, 2012 at 2:29 am |
    • toadears

      This board was a lot smarter before 3:30 PM today. Then the yellow buses came and ruined it all. Long and short buses.

      February 16, 2012 at 12:17 am |
  20. dudley0415


    February 15, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
    • Spock

      "Pure Energy"

      February 15, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
      • CandC

        Everybody Dance NOW!

        February 16, 2012 at 12:30 am |
  21. wanderlust misfit

    Cool article, but I was a little put off by the whimsical, journalistic flair. It was clever, but the sort of clever that belongs in fluff articles, not pieces about science. But, I guess that's why LiveScience exists. Interesting stuff nonetheless!

    February 15, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
    • wryng

      You are absolutely right. What science needs is to be more boring! That will get the kids engaged.

      February 15, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
    • Sally

      I think you should lighten up a bit.

      February 15, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
      • TheNumber

        Yeah, lighten up, Francis.

        February 15, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
    • Spock

      There was not a single thing about Kim Kardashian – what a pity.

      February 15, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
    • Marine5484

      This article is made for the masses and not just for those who are interested in science.

      February 15, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
    • goddog

      I have to agree with you on this. Give me the facts somewhere before the mid way point of the article.

      February 16, 2012 at 12:30 am |
  22. midogs2

    Sometimes I wonder, even though our scientific technology is so advanced (for us on earth), that we predestined to know about life 7,500 light years away. I cannot imagine that we will ever know about space/time transport to benefit our curiosity. just sayin'.

    February 15, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
  23. One Skunk Todd

    Calling Eta C and the sun neighbors is like calling Atlanta and Las Vegas neighbors.

    February 15, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
    • K

      Umm...no its not. In astronomical terms it is just down the hall.

      February 15, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
    • coffeefortheenlightened

      Its all relative. For example, if the Milky Way were the size of a football field, then Eta is only 7.5 yards from us, less than a first down. That's neighbors as far as I'm concerned.

      February 15, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
      • One Skunk Todd

        But at that scale the sun would be roughly size of a hydrogen atom. And Eta C about 100 times more massive. 7.5 meters separating them is an unimaginable gulf in comparison.

        February 15, 2012 at 10:44 pm |
    • CNN Reader

      It's all relative. It's not in the "neighborhood" of the sun if you define it as most of the stars visible to the naked eye. Sirius, 8 light years away, is in this neighborhood, and so are most of the stars closer than 50 light years. Eta Carinae is visible to the naked eye, but it's an exception. It's only visible because it's a behemoth among stars. On the other hand, on a galactic scale, 7500 light years could be considered the "neighborhood" of the sun, since it's 100,000 light years from one side of the galaxy to the other.

      February 15, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
      • One Skunk Todd

        Test to see if WordPress is going to eat all my comments.

        February 15, 2012 at 11:02 pm |
      • One Skunk Todd

        Any suggestions as to why my post doesn't show? does WordPress not care for the percent or tilde symbols?

        February 15, 2012 at 11:09 pm |
  24. elwood

    CNN might want to try a little bit harder on their spelling.
    Its not Pi Cigni
    Its P Cygni as 2 seconds on wikipedia could tell you.
    The star is named after the constellation its in: Cygnus, not Cigni

    February 15, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
    • midogs2


      February 15, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
    • Sally

      Grammar Nazi

      February 15, 2012 at 10:15 pm |
      • Frumpo

        No, actually, a spelling Nazi.

        February 15, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
    • WickedFairy

      You are wrong.

      February 15, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
    • WickedFairy

      You are wrong. 'Cygnus' (Greek nomenclature 'Cygni')
      Deneb (a Cyg, a Cygni, Alpha Cygni) is the brightest star in the constellation 'Cygnus' (Greek nomenclature 'Cygni') is one of the vertices of the Summer Triangle.
      Pi 2 Cygni: (Pi = π)

      February 15, 2012 at 10:52 pm |
    • WickedFairy

      elwood: 4 seconds mental work would yield better more accurate information: 'Cygnus' (Greek nomenclature 'Cygni')
      Deneb (a Cyg, a Cygni, Alpha Cygni) is the brightest star in the constellation 'Cygnus' (Greek nomenclature 'Cygni') is one of the vertices of the Summer Triangle.
      Pi 2 Cygni: (Pi = π)
      Go back to school baby elwood.

      February 15, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
  25. Future Review

    I honestly think that they are more concerned as to why it exploded the way it did. And, the fact that it is hundreds of thousands of years old and yet younger than our 5 billion year old sun which. How naive are they to suspect that our sun could last for another 5 billion years? What if, they really don't know how long our sun will last? With so many things being unknown about the galaxy and other celestial bodies, this could certainly make someone feel uneasy about the reality of our sun going supernova!

    February 15, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
    • EatYouAlive

      Our sun is not going supernova any time soon. As in billions of years. Look up supernova and do some self-educating.

      February 15, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
      • Marouf Warsame

        Actually the sun will never go supernova it will start cooling off around 5 billion years from now and as it cools it will grow into a something scientist call a Red star and the sun will either destroy the earth as it gets bigger or as the suns gravity gets weaker the earth might go further away from it.

        February 15, 2012 at 10:30 pm |
    • Chris

      I can see somebody fell asleep during astrophysics 101.

      February 15, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
    • elwood

      Actually our sun will NEVER go supernova. Look up stellar evolution. Its not the right type of star. Only certain types will do that.

      February 15, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
    • sweetmesquite

      If you've got the time, these may pique your interest.


      These should, at least, cover the basics. Happy reading! 🙂

      February 15, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
    • Caiha

      I love people like you. Never trust smart people, because they're stupid. Hehe, that's what you're saying, right? And people wonder why we're falling behind...

      February 15, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
      • sumday

        its not that I don't trust smart people, it's that I question their assumptions. I mean it's not like smart people have ever been wrong or misguided before have they? Not like smart people don't change their minds every decade or so. Besides in order to be smart you must first question everything. Just re-read the article there was some smart person who had a theory of how/why this start erupted and that theory was around (probably un-questioned/fully trusted) for a while and now they are coming out and saying oh we might of been wrong about that theory- and that scenario plays out way more than those smart people like to admit.

        February 16, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • Lejaune

      The mass of a star pretty much determines the pressure and temperature in the center and how fast it burns based on basic law of physics. So yes, they do know reasonably well. I also know the bible says differently so I don't blame you.

      February 15, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
    • Ezo

      Why would anyone waste time feeling uneasy about something they can't possibly control? The sun going Super-Nova? Not even close to being on my list of things to worry about. If it does happen, all your worries will be over!

      February 15, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
    • daftshadow

      Our Sun is a wimp. It'll balloon into a red giant and shrink down to a tiny dwarf. But as the OP stated, nothing is for certain. The super volcano under Yellowstone can erupt anytime, the "Big One" earthquake could strike the West Coast anytime, and so could the Sun become a red giant anytime.

      February 15, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
    • Spock

      Sir we are going to kill our selves long before this happens – so relax.

      February 15, 2012 at 10:30 pm |
    • sonic10158

      The Sun is too small a star to supernova

      February 15, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
  26. Gaia

    Brilliant! I'm fascinated by how much we still don't know about the universe. Keep looking toward the sky and don't forget your sense of wonder!

    February 15, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
  27. Daleri

    The first "light echo" picture has the same features as the second picture eight years later, it is just that the second picture is overexposed.

    February 15, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
    • StarChaser

      Just above the center of picture #5 you can see some faint nebulosity which matches up with the same section on picture #6. It could be that the eruption could have taken eight years or more to occur, and that picture #5 was taken at the beginning of the eruption, showing a very faint echo, which then grew brighter at which time picture #6 was taken. Still interesting stuff!

      February 15, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
    • TheTeacher

      Wow, they really should have asked you before publishing in the world's leading peer reviewed journal

      February 15, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
  28. The Real Truth

    Amazing, what happened to looking at something with an analytical mind like distance and speed of light and then take a break and consider the awe and mystery and relationships you have yet to define in your own small realm of understanding. Amazing! We are stardust ........................................................

    February 15, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
  29. Fluttershy

    outerspace doesnt exist.These images are produced by Satan to confuse you.Don't fall for this outer space stuf.It's a sham!

    February 15, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
    • Raphael

      ...and I bet you believe the earth is also flat.

      February 15, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
    • Gaia

      I respectfully suggest that you have it backwards, Fluttershy. How can you look at this and NOT see God?

      February 15, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
    • Neal

      You need to purchase a telescope, point it up to the sky and look at the amazing things that are in space. You are totally ignorant to the facts that are clearly present all around us.

      February 15, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
    • Steve

      lol, you guys fall for these trolls way too easily.

      February 15, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
  30. Zon

    Geez, it happened 7,500 years ago. Why get so excited....

    February 15, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
    • MarcPDX

      Zon, it only happened 170 years ago. 7500 is how many light years away it is (and that is close as far as our galaxy goes).

      February 15, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
      • MarcPDX

        Actually, Gregg (below) is right. It actually occured about 7700 years ago... and was observed here on earth 170 years ago.

        February 15, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
    • McGuffin

      Well look at it from the photon's perspective: as far as it's concerned, no time has passed at all from when it was created to when it was absorbed here on earth. 😉

      February 16, 2012 at 1:18 am |
  31. Niraj

    Always reminds me of the late Carl Sagan and his recording of the pale blue dot.

    February 15, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
  32. Gregg

    Technically the great eruption occurred about 7670 years ago. It took the light 7500 years to get to us. This means there may be many other events that happened, that we have yet to see. In fact, the star may be gone, or be a compacted stellar remnant such as a black hole by now, having blown itself up as a supernova. We just won't be able to see it until the light photons from it make it out this far.

    February 15, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
  33. Franjo Schiller

    Eta is 7500 light years away and the big bang was discovered in the year 1840. Now after 7671 years our sientist are able to learn what might has happened to this star in the past. I am sure that in the near future we shall diccover such incidents not with a delay of thousand lightyears (speed of light). Quantum physics should provide us with tools (sensors) to notice such changes in stars or galaxies at once. No delay through speed of light anymore. What do you think?

    February 15, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • Mister Jones

      I think that tachyons are still a theoretical particle, and we should do all we can at and around the speed of light before we try to do more. But that's just my two cents worth.

      February 15, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
    • Chris

      I think you should learn to spell "scientist". People on these message boards complain when people take them to task over their spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc., but I say that the way you think is no better than the way you write. What do YOU think?

      February 15, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
      • Franjo Schiller

        Sorry for the mistake. I am from Germany. It is not so easy to discuss such topics in another language like English or French. What about you? Do you speak or write German? Das würde mich sehr freuen.

        July 13, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • McAfee

      I mean this nicely, but I think you need to brush up on your physics.

      February 16, 2012 at 1:00 am |

    Awesome, stellar and mesmerizing!

    February 15, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
  35. malik williams

    This was very interesting.

    February 15, 2012 at 1:12 pm |


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