Universe  ID: 11722

Supercomputer Simulations of Eta Carinae

These movies show supercomputer simulations of the interactive stellar winds of Eta Carinae, a binary system that includes the most luminous and massive star within 10,000 light-years.

Both stars produce powerful gaseous outflows called stellar winds, which enshroud the stars and stymy efforts to directly measure their properties. Astronomers have established that the brighter, cooler primary star has about 90 times the mass of the sun and outshines it by 5 million times. While the properties of its smaller, hotter companion are more contested, Goddard's Ted Gull and his colleagues think the star has about 30 solar masses and emits a million times the sun's light.

During the past 11 years, spanning three close approaches or periastron passages, the Goddard group has developed a model based on routine observations of the stars using ground-based telescopes and multiple NASA satellites. According to this model, the interaction of the two stellar winds accounts for many of the periodic changes observed in the system. The winds from each star have markedly different properties: thick and slow for the primary, lean and fast for the hotter companion. The primary's wind blows at nearly 1 million mph (1.6 million km/h) and is especially dense, carrying away the equivalent mass of our sun every thousand years. By contrast, the companion's wind carries off about 100 times less material than the primary's, but it races outward as much as six times faster.

The 3-D time-dependent smoothed-particle hydrodynamics simulations, which were developed by Goddard theorist Thomas Madura, were performed on the Pleaides supercomputer at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. The colors used relate either to density, temperature or wind speed differences, depending on the movie; see the captions for additional details.

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Thomas Madura (ORAU): Animator
Francis Reddy (Syneren Technologies): Writer
Scott Wiessinger (USRA): Producer
Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/T. Madura

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This item is part of this series:
Astrophysics Simulations

Goddard TV Tape:
G2015-001 -- Eta Carinae Inner Workings

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