Massive stars live fast and die young. But they are also beautiful. This amazingly spectacular new image from ESO shows the brilliant and unusual star Wolf-Rayet 22 nestled within billowing, colorful folds of the Carina Nebula. WR 22 is one of many exceptionally hot and brilliant stars contained by the beautiful Carina Nebula (also known as NGC 3372), a huge region of star formation in the southern Milky Way. The image was captured by ESO’s Wide Field Imager at the La Silla Observatory in Chile.
Wolf–Rayet stars are named after the two French astronomers who first identified them in the mid-nineteenth century, and WR 22 is one of the most massive ones we know of. It is a member of a double star system and has been measured to have a mass at least 70 times that of the Sun. Although the star lies over 5000 light-years from the Earth, it is so bright that it can just be faintly seen with the unaided eye under good conditions.
The colorful backdrop of the Carina Nebula is created by the interactions between the intense ultraviolet radiation coming from WR 22 and other hot massive stars within the nebula, and the vast gas clouds, mostly hydrogen, from which they formed. The central part of this enormous complex of gas and dust lies off the left side of this picture as can be seen in image another image on the ESO website. This area includes the famous star Eta Carinae, one of the most massive stars and unstable stars in the universe.
For more info, and larger images for downloads (need a new desktop background?) see this ESO webpage.