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Visible echoes reprise 19th century spectacle

Light from long-ago stellar eruption holds clues to its cause

1:35pm, February 15, 2012

Scientists are closer to understanding an enormous two-decade-long eruption that transformed one of the galaxy’s most massive stars into a fireball millions of times brighter than the sun.

From 1838 to 1858, astronomers watched the binary giant star Eta Carinae erupt, shedding more than 10 solar masses of material and producing an oddly shaped, double-lobed cloud 7,500 light years from Earth. Scientists have thought a dense stellar wind fueled Eta Carinae’s outburst, and considered it the prototype for “supernova impostors,” or shorter-lived eruptions that don’t quite destroy a star.

But ne

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