August 11th, 2008
NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope Reveals Peony Nebula Star
The brightest known star is a massive star called Eta Carina. However, a new runner-up, now the second-brightest star in our galaxy, has been discovered in the galaxy's dusty and frenzied interior. This image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the star in the central region of our Milky Way. Dubbed the Peony nebula star, this blazing ball of gas shines with the equivalent light of 3.2 million suns. The reigning champ, Eta Carina, produces the equivalent of 4.7 million suns worth of light. However, astronomers say these estimates are uncertain, and it's possible that the Peony nebula star could be even brighter than Eta Carina. If the Peony star is so bright, why doesn't it stand out more in this view? The answer is dust. This star is located in a very dusty region jam packed with stars. In fact, there could be other super bright stars still hidden deep in the stellar crowd. Spitzer's infrared eyes allowed it to pierce the dust and assess the Peony nebula star's true brightness. Likewise, infrared data from the European Southern Observatory's New Technology Telescope in Chile were integral in calculating the Peony nebula star's luminosity. The image below is courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/Potsdam Univ.