Nebulae are the gas and dust clouds that are ejected by stellar eruptions and explosions, and generally have a certain beauty about them. Back in 1847, the star Eta Carinae ejected a nebula that was nicknamed the Homunculus. Since then astronomers have photographed the nebula not only for its beauty, but because it provides information about its parent star. Astronomers now believe that within ten years or so, the nebula will be difficult to observe.
What’s causing the nebula to disappear? Well, the Homunculus will still be there, but Eta Carinae — a star that is of a type called a Luminous Blue Variable — is getting brighter and it will be almost impossible to make out the nebula. By 2036, it’s expected that the star will be ten times brighter than the nebula.
Is the star itself becoming more luminous? Not really. A team of astronomers led by Brazilian Augusto Damineli believes that the dust cloud that makes up the nebula is dissipating as seen from our vantage point, making the star appear brighter.
For amateur astronomers, there’s never been a better time to try to capture the beauty of the Homunculus nebula. Soon, it will be impossible to see it.