Carina Nebula Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Suzanne Rose

Suzanne has taught all levels PK-graduate school and has a PhD in Instructional Systems Design. She currently teachers literacy courses to preservice and inservice teachers.

In this lesson, you'll hop aboard a spaceship bound for the Carina Nebula. Hold on tight and be sure to take a lot of pictures as you find out all about this beautiful and unusual cloud in the Milky Way galaxy.

A Huge Cloud

If you were traveling in a spaceship through the Milky Way galaxy, about 7,500 light years away from Earth, you'd see a huge cloud of gas and space dust, glowing with many different colors. This beautiful cloud is called the Carina Nebula.

The Carina Nebula
carina

Mostly made out of hydrogen and helium gas, this nebula ('nebula' is another word for 'cloud') is also called the Eta Carinae Nebula, the Grand Nebula, or the Great Nebula in Carina. These names were given because it's found in the Carina constellation and surrounds a star called Eta Carinae.

The Carina Nebula was first discovered about 270 years ago by Nicolas Louis de Lucille, a French astronomer.

Stars and Neutron Stars

Looking out the window of your spaceship, you'd also see thousands of stars in the Carina Nebula, including at least ten star clusters, or groups of stars. This is one of the largest areas in the Milky Way where new stars are being formed. The Carina Nebula also contains at least 12 huge, very bright stars that are up to 100 times bigger than our Sun.

Astronomers, who are scientists that study stars and other objects in the universe, have discovered about six neutron stars in the Carina Nebula. A neutron star is what's left after a star explodes and becomes a supernova.

The Homunculus Nebula in the Carina Nebula
homunculus

Neutron stars are very dense, which means the bits that make them up are packed together very tightly. If you could reach out the window of the spaceship and scoop up just one little teaspoonful of a neutron star, it would weigh a billion tons! It's a good thing that stars don't get dizzy because a neutron star spins around up to 43,000 times a minute!

Sightseeing in the Carina Nebula

While you're taking your tour of the Carina Nebula, here are several sights that you must be sure to see.

Eta Carinae

The largest star in the Carina Nebula is called Eta Carinae. It's up to four million times brighter than our Sun. Scientists think Eta Carinae is about 2-3 million years old.

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