If you want to see massive stars being born, look no further than the Carina Nebula, a violent star formation site that specializes in churning out big stars. But look fast...these stars could go supernova at any second, cosmically speaking.

A good case in point is the star Eta Carinae, which can be seen just left of the top center of the image above. It's about a hundred times as massive as our Sun, and it's likely to explode in the next million years. While that's still a long time in human terms, that means the star has likely already lived through about 99% of its lifespan, and even that wasn't really that long - to put it in perspective, a good majority of dinosaurs completely predate Eta Carinae.

But the star has made the most out of its short existence, emitting strong winds and radiation that shape the gas in the nebula and compact some of it into clumps dense enough to form new stars. Right now, its increasing instability means that it's pumping out tons of stellar material before it finally explodes.


You can see some of the processes on display in these images from the European Southern Observatory, whose LABOCA camera on the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment Telescope captured this image in submillimeter light. Here's some more information from the ESO:

At this wavelength, most of the light seen is the weak heat glow from cosmic dust grains. The image therefore reveals the clouds of dust and molecular gas - mostly hydrogen - from which stars may form. At -250ºC, the dust grains are very cold, and the faint glow emanating from them can only be seen at submillimetre wavelengths, significantly longer than those of visible light. Submillimetre light is, therefore, key to studying how stars form and how they interact with their parent clouds.

The nebula contains stars with a total mass equivalent to over 25 000 Suns, while the mass of the gas and dust clouds is that of about 140 000 Suns. However, only a fraction of the gas in the Carina Nebula is in sufficiently dense clouds to collapse and form new stars in the immediate future (in astronomical terms, meaning within the next million years). In the longer term, the dramatic effects of the massive stars already in the region on their surrounding clouds may accelerate the star formation rate.

For more, check out the ESO.