Laser duel between Earth and exploding Carina Nebula

Earth is fighting a laser duel with the exploding Carina Nebula
Earth is fighting a laser duel with the exploding Carina Nebula. Picture ESO

This astronomy picture looks like a cosmic battle to the death or a new TV series about aliens attacking Earth.

Nope! We actually shoot these four laser beams towards Eta Carinae, a nebula that has been exploding for nearly 200 years.

So, don’t worry! Earth is not doomed. Earth scientists are actively shooting lasers into the heart of an exploding star system… to know it better.

Picture explanation

Earth is fighting a laser duel with the exploding Carina Nebula
Eta Carinae has been exploding for nearly 200 years, and now we’re firing lasers at it. Picture: ESO

The purple star system pictured here is the Carina Nebula, sometimes called the Eta Carinae nebula.

It is one of the most luminous star systems in the Milky Way although being about 7,500 light-years from Earth. This is because it has been steadily exploding in a spectacular eruption of gas and dust for nearly 200 years.

Scientists fire these lasers from one of the ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile to simulate distant stars so they can get to know it better. More space news on ESO, Live Science, Strange Sounds and Steve Quayle.

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  1. Pretty fun photo
    The lasers are used to measure the atmospheric dispersion patterns so that the adaptive optics can correct the image.
    The eddy currents in the atmosphere cause the different layers of density to distort like a heat mirage on hot ground reflects or lens distant objects.
    By measuring the refraction of these layers with a known light you can adjust the telescope mirrors to remove most of it.

  2. Wonder if they are mapping something with four lasers?

    Up in the mountains, the Milky Way is visible on clear nights. See all kinds of cool things. The clearest views I ever had were in the High Sierras. You could even see satellites in orbit. Up in Montana, the auro borealis was going off big time when I was there. Theres all kinds of fascinating things out there.

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