Nearly 170 years ago, one of the most brilliant star systems in the Milky Way, Eta Carinae, experienced a huge eruption—not quite a supernova, but so mighty that it was briefly the second-brightest system in the sky. Now, astronomers are measuring light from the ancient explosion to learn more about the event, Space.com reports. Astronomers analyzed light that reflected off interstellar dust and finally reached Earth from the outburst, which sent gas flying 20 times faster than normal, making these the fastest speeds ever reported from an eruption in which the star is known to have survived. Astronomers think these high speeds may be possible because Eta Carinae once consisted of three stars, two of which merged to explode, they report in two papers in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
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