A stellar time bomb is ticking down toward a powerful blast. The explosion will blow the star to bits and put on a spectacular show in Earth's night sky.
The star is known as Eta Carinae. It's about 7500 light-years away, in the southern constellation Carina, the keel.
Eta Carinae is one of the most remarkable star systems in the galaxy, but it's still something of a mystery. That's because it's surrounded itself with a peanut-shaped "cocoon" of gas and dust that's impossible to see through. In fact, astronomers still aren't positive whether it's one star or two.
If it's a single star, then it's one of the most massive stars in our entire galaxy -- more than a hundred times as massive as the Sun. But there's evidence that it's actually two stars -- one of them about 80 times as massive as the Sun, and the other only a little smaller.
If it's a binary, then both stars are likely to end their lives as supernovae -- explosions that blast the stars to bits. Each will leave behind a neutron star or a black hole. A single star would probably explode, too, but it could form one of the most powerful blasts in the universe -- a gamma-ray burst. Either way, a blast could come soon -- anytime during the next million years or so -- even tonight. And when it happens, Eta Carinae will outshine everything else in the night sky -- even the Moon.
Will the explosion be dangerous to Earth? We'll let you know tomorrow.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2008
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