• acceleration of particles;
  • radiation mechanisms: non-thermal;
  • ISM: individual objects: Carina nebula;
  • ISM: individual objects: Eta Carina;
  • open clusters and associations: general;
  • X-rays: binaries


The massive binary system Eta Carinae and the surrounding H ii complex, the Carina nebula, are potential particle acceleration sites from which very high energy (VHE; E≥ 100 GeV) γ-ray emission could be expected. This paper presents data collected during VHE γ-ray observations with the HESS telescope array from 2004 to 2010, which cover a full orbit of Eta Carinae. In the 33.1-h data set no hint of significant γ-ray emission from Eta Carinae has been found and an upper limit on the γ-ray flux of inline image (99 per cent confidence level) is derived above the energy threshold of 470 GeV. Together with the detection of high energy (HE; 0.1 ≤E≤ 100 GeV) γ-ray emission by the Fermi Large Area Telescope up to 100 GeV, and assuming a continuation of the average HE spectral index into the VHE domain, these results imply a cut-off in the γ-ray spectrum between the HE and VHE γ-ray range. This could be caused either by a cut-off in the accelerated particle distribution or by severe γ–γ absorption losses in the wind collision region. Furthermore, the search for extended γ-ray emission from the Carina nebula resulted in an upper limit on the γ-ray flux of inline image (99 per cent confidence level). The derived upper limit of ∼23 on the cosmic ray enhancement factor is compared with results found for the old-age mixed-morphology supernova remnant W28.