Fr.: Eta de la Carène
The most luminous and the most extensively studied of → Luminous Blue Variables. Known also as HD 93308, it lies in the → Trumpler 16→ star cluster of the → Carina Nebula and is about 7,500 to 8,000 → light-years away. η Carina probably began its life as a → very massive star with an initial mass of about 150 → solar masses, and has a current estimated mass of about 90-100 solar masses. The difference has been lost in sudden giant eruptions in the past few thousand years. The so-called → Homunculus Nebula results from the mass ejection by η Carinae during its giant outburst around 1843 when it reached a magnitude of -1 and became the second brightest star in the southern sky. About 1880 it reached magnitude 7 and has remained at this level, although with fluctuations. The 1843 event ejected at least 12 solar masses of gas moving at speeds of up to 650 km s-1 with a kinetic energy of almost 1050 erg. The double-lobed remnant has a mass of about 2.5 solar masses. It is divided by a → torus of cold dust (110 K), about 5 → light-years in radius and 15 solar masses, which was ejected in an earlier event some 1000 years ago. There is strong evidence that η Carinae is a → binary system with a period of about 5.5 years and a projected separation less than 30 → astronomical units (about 0.013 arcsec). A colliding-wind binary is suggested by the → hard X-ray spectrum. The main component has an estimated → mass loss rate of 10-3 solar masses per year.
Eta (η), Gk. letter of alphabet; the → Carina constellation.