Posts Tagged ‘ESO’

Telescope Images Most Massive Stars Ever Found

21 Jul

Images from the Very Large Telescope in Chile capture the most massive stars ever found, including one twice as large as the current accepted limit for stellar birth weights. This supermassive star, called R136a1, is 265 times the mass of the sun, and was as much as 320 times the mass of the sun when it was born.

This book-of-records-worthy star was found in the young stellar cluster RMC 136a, colloquially known as R136. It is located 165,000 light-years away inside the Tarantula Nebula, in one of our neighboring galaxies, the Large Magellanic Cloud. The star is already a little over a million years old, and has spent most of its life shedding material through powerful stellar winds and outflows of gas. It has lost a fifth of its initial mass.

Astronomers had previously believed that the upper limit on stars’ masses at birth was 150 solar masses, but four stars in the cluster had birth weights well above that limit. Although the cluster houses more than 100,000 stars, those four giants account for nearly half the wind and radiation power of the entire group.

This trio of images shows a visible-light image of the Tarantula nebula as seen with the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-meter telescope (left) along with a zoomed-in visible-light image from the Very Large Telescope (middle). A new image of the R136 cluster, taken with a near-infrared instrument on the Very Large Telescope, is shown in the right-hand panel, with the cluster itself at the lower right.

Below, an artist’s conception shows the relative sizes of stars, from red dwarfs of about 0.1 solar masses, yellow dwarfs like the sun, blue dwarfs weighing eight solar masses, and the approximately 300-solar-mass R136a1.

Images: 1) ESO/P. Crowther/C.J. Evans. 2) ESO/M. Kornmesser

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