In the mid-1800s, mariners sailing the southern seas navigated at night by a brilliant star in the constellation Carina. The star, named Eta Carinae, was the second brightest star in the sky for more than a decade. Those mariners could hardly have imagined that by the mid-1860s the brilliant orb would no longer be visible. Eta Carinae was enveloped by a cloud of dust ejected during a violent outburst named “The Great Eruption.”
Because of Eta Carinae's violent history, astronomers have kept watch over its activities. Although Hubble has monitored the volatile superstar for 25 years, it still is uncovering new revelations. Using Hubble to map the ultraviolet-light glow of magnesium embedded in warm gas, astronomers were surprised to discover the gas in places they had not seen it before.