The Carina Nebula contains a great concentration of very massive and very luminous stars, the most prominent of which is Eta Carinae. Over the last several hundred years, dramatic variations in the appearance of this star have been noted. For a period of time around 1843, the star was the second brightest in the sky but then faded becoming invisible to the naked eye around 1870. Today it is only barely visible to the naked eye, but has been brightening for the last 40 years or so.

Observations of Eta Carinae show that it is surrounded by an irregular expanding shell of material that presumably has been ejected from the star. It is believed that this star is an example of an object approaching the supernova phase and may someday undergo a supernova explosion, probably within the next 10,000 years.

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