Study: Mas­sive star 10 mil­lion times as bright as our sun

Austin American-Statesman - - THURSDAY BRIEFING -

LONDON — A huge ball of brightly burn­ing gas drift­ing through a neigh­bor­ing galaxy might be the heav­i­est star ever dis­cov­ered — hun­dreds of times as mas­sive as the sun, sci­en­tists said Wed­nes­day af­ter work­ing out its weight for the first time.

Those be­hind the find say the star, called R136a1, might once have weighed as much as 320 times as much as our sun. As­tro­physi­cist Paul Crowther said the obese star — twice as heavy as any pre­vi­ously dis­cov­ered — has al­ready slimmed down con­sid­er­ably over its life­time.

In fact, it’s burn­ing it­self off with such in­ten­sity that it shines at nearly 10 mil­lion times the lu­mi­nos­ity of the sun.

“Un­like hu­mans, these stars are born heavy and lose weight as they age,” said Crowther, an as­tro­physi­cist at Eng­land’s Uni­ver­sity of Sh­effield. “R136a1 is al­ready mid­dle-aged and has un­der­gone an in­tense weight loss pro­gram.”

Crowther said the gi­ant was iden­ti­fied at the cen­ter of a star clus­ter in the Taran­tula Neb­ula, a sprawl­ing cloud of gas and dust in the Large Mag­el­lanic Cloud, a galaxy about 165,000 lightyears away from our Milky Way galaxy.

The star was the most mas­sive of sev­eral giants iden­ti­fied by Crowther and his team in a new ar­ti­cle in the Monthly Notices of the Royal As­tro­nom­i­cal So­ci­ety.

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