Hubble Peeks Into the Largest Collection of Giant Stars Ever Discovered

Thursday, 17 March 2016 - 2:53PM
Astronomy
Space Imagery
Thursday, 17 March 2016 - 2:53PM
Hubble Peeks Into the Largest Collection of Giant Stars Ever Discovered
Hubble just got a glimpse into a gorgeous "land of giants," the largest collection of monster stars ever observed by astronomers, which includes the noted behemoth R136a1, which is 250 times the size of our Sun.

Hubble Monster Stars

The field of stars lies right at the edge of our Milky Way galaxy, approximately 170,000 light years away from Earth. About two dozen giant stars have been identified thus far, only four of which were known previously, and all of which have at least 100 times the mass of our host star. 

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"In just a tiny bit of this satellite galaxy, we see perhaps a couple of dozen stars with more than a 100 solar masses, of which nine are in a tight core just a few light-years across," Professor Paul Crowther of Sheffield University told BBC News. "But that two dozen number - that's probably more than are in the entire Milky Way Galaxy for this type of star," he told BBC News.
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R136a1 is the most massive and luminous star observed yet, and its discovery in 2010 inspired the study of this region of space. Hubble's ultraviolet sensitivity allowed it to image the area with more accuracy than ever before, revealing dozens of stars that outshine our sun by a factor of 30 million. 

Opening quote
"Because they are so massive, they are all close to their so-called Eddington limit, which is the maximum luminosity a star can have before it rips itself apart; and so they've got really powerful outflows. They are shedding mass at a fair rate of knots," the astronomer added - up to an Earth mass of gaseous material per month.
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These stars are noteworthy on their own, but the fact that they formed within such a small region of space is a source of scientific befuddlement, as the current prevailing understanding of star formation can't explain how they are all clustered so densely. As a result, scientists have theorized that they formed in binary pairs that will eventually become binary black holes, like the ones that emitted the gravitational waves that were detected last month.

Opening quote
"A lot of these stars will be in binaries (in pairs), and when they die they'll produce black holes, which will merge at some point in the dim and distant future. And when they do they'll produce gravitational waves. The first detection of gravitational waves [reported by Advanced LIGO last month] was from the merger of a pair of 30-solar-mass black holes. They probably came from 100-solar-mass stars."
Closing quote
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