A moderately precise dynamical age for the Homunculus of Eta Carinae based on 13 years of HST imaging

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The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) archive contains a large collection of images of η Carinae, and this paper analyzes those most suitable for measuring its expanding Homunculus Nebula. Multiple intensity tracings through the Homunculus reveal the fractional increase in the overall size of the nebula; this avoids registration uncertainty, mitigates brightness fluctuations, and is independent of previous methods. Combining a 13-yr baseline of Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) images in the F631N filter, with a 4-yr baseline of Advanced Camera for Surveys/High Resolution Channel (ACS/HRC) images in the F550M filter, yields an ejection date (assuming linear motion) of 1847.1 (±0.8 yr). This result improves the precision, but is in excellent agreement with the previous study by Morse et al. (2001) that used a shorter time baseline and a different analysis method. This more precise date is inconsistent with ejection during a periastron passage of the eccentric binary. Ejection occured well into the main plateau of the Great Eruption, and not during the brief peaks in 1843 and 1838. The age uncertainty is dominated by a real spread in ages of various knots, and by some irregular brightness fluctuations. Several knots appear to have been ejected decades before or after the mean date, implying a complicated history of mass-loss episodes outside the main bright phase of the eruption. The extended history of mass ejection may have been largely erased by the passage of a shock through clumpy ejecta, as most material was swept into a thin shell with nearly uniform apparent age.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalUnknown Journal
StatePublished - Sep 18 2017


  • Circumstellar matter
  • Outflows
  • Stars: evolution
  • Stars: winds

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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