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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Heftiest Star Discovery Shatters Cosmic Record

At 300 times the mass of our sun, it's double the size scientists thought possible

Using a combination of instruments on ESO’s Very Large Telescope, astronomers have discovered the most massive stars to date. This montage shows a visible-light image of the Tarantula nebula as seen with the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope (left) along with a zoomed-in visible-light image from the Very Large Telescope (middle). A new image of the R136 cluster, is shown in the right-hand panel, with the cluster itself at the lower right.

Astronomers have discovered the most massive stars known, including one at more than 300 times the mass of our sun — double the size that scientists thought heavyweight stars could reach.

These colossal stars are millions of times brighter than the sun and shed mass through very powerful winds.

The stellar discovery, which represents the first time that these hulking stars were individually identified, could help astronomers understand the behavior of massive stars, and how large they can be at birth.

A European research team led by Paul Crowther, professor of astrophysics at the University of Sheffield in England, discovered the massive stars inside two young clusters of stars NGC 3603 and RMC 136a. They used a combination of instruments on the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope, in addition to archival data from the Hubble Space Telescope, to study the stellar nurseries.

The NGC 3603 nebula, located 22,000 light-years from the sun, is a star-making factory where flurries of stars form from the extended clouds of gas and dust.

RMC 136a, which is more commonly referred to as simply R136, is another cluster of young, massive and hot stars, located within the Tarantula Nebula. This nebula is found in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a neighboring galaxy that is 165,000 light-years away.

Astronomers found several stars with scorching hot surface temperatures of over 71,500 degrees Fahrenheit, which is more than seven times hotter than the sun. The stars are also tens of times larger and several million times brighter.

Source: (Article by Denise Chow) msnbc.msn.com

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