This large southern constellation lies in one of the most beautiful parts of the
sky. The Milky Way passing through Carina and the neighbouring constellation
Vela (north of Carina) makes this
field worth for random scanning through the sky. The star field is extremly
rich and a pleasure to observe even with binoculars or small scopes.
Also it is notable for it contains the second brightest star in the sky, alpha Car, called Canopus.
Stars and other objects
There are lots of star clusters in this area. One of the more famous is
IC 2602, sometimes called the Southern Pleiades. It is a large and
bright cluster. In the center of the cluster sits the 3rd mag, blue-white star
theta Car. To the naked eye six stars are visible, but viewed with
binoculars or small scopes many more stars of this cluster can be seen in field
of about 1 degree of the sky.
The name is derived from the Argo Navis, the ship of the Argonauts,
of which Carina, the keel, is thought to be a part of.
The large open cluster NGC 2516 is best viewed with binoculars. It contains about 100 stars. Interesting are its 5th mag red giant and its three double stars of 8th and 9th magnitude. To view them you will need a small telescope.
Containing about 150 stars NGC 3532 is another large binocular cluster. The stars are of 6th mag and fainter. In small scopes it appears wonderfully rich and reveals a markedly elliptical shape. The one orange star of 4 mag at one edge is not a real member of that cluster, but much more distant. The cluster distance is estimated to be about 1300 lightyears.
The globular cluster NGC 2808 is a faint naked-eye object.
The brightest stars of Carina are alpha Car, Canopus, a yellow-white supergiant of -0.7 mag (about 300 lightyears distant), beta Car, Miaplacidus, a blue-white star of 1.7 mag, gamma Car,Almuhlif with 1.8 mag and epsilon Car, She (sometimes called Avior), which is a yellow giant with a brightness of 1.9 mag.
Eta Car with the surrounding the Eta Carinae Nebula is one of the most peculiar objects in the sky. The variable star eta Car behaves most erratically: In 1843 it flared up to a maximum brightness of -1 mag (which comes close to Sirius (alpha CMa)), but nowdays it shines as a 6th or 7th mag star. It is thought, that eta Car is a unstable supergiant having a mass of more than 100 times of that of our sun. In irregular intervals it throws of shells of gas. This star is a candidate to become a supernova somewhen in the next 10000 years. Because it is embedded in the Eta Carinae Nebula it gives a most glorious view for the observer (with a large telescope). This nebula is visible to the nakes eye and even larger than the famous Orion Nebula. It is bisected by a dark V-shaped lane of dust. Eta Car lies in the center of the nebula next to a dark patch called Keyhole because of its shape.
Epsilon Car is a double star which is easy to observe in a two inch telescope (the second star is a blue one). The brightness of the components are 4.9 and 7.7, respectively.
The double star upsilon Car is a white star of 3 mag with a 6th mag companion. This system can be viewed with small scopes.
The star b22 (or t2 Car) reveals in scopes to be a wide orange-green pair.
The Eta Carinids meteor shower can be observed from january 14 to january 27. The maximum occurs around the 21st of january. More information about the Eta Carinids can be found in Gary Kronk's database about meteor showers.
The name is derived from the Argo Navis, the ship of the Argonauts, of which Carina, the keel, is thought to be a part of.