Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Weighty Matter

Via Sky & Telescope, news of the heaviest known star, a 'hypergiant' estimated to be about 265 times the mass of the Sun and nine million times as luminous. Stars that massive weren't even supposed to form, blowing themselves apart before they could even coalesce. (It is possible that this star is an unresolved binary, but most indicators point to a single massive star.)

It goes by a colorful name typical of stars discovered in modern times: R136a1. Remember the days when colony planets orbited Betelgeuse or Canopus? Its broader surroundings do have a more vivid name: It is located in the Tarantula Nebula, on the outskirts of the Large Magellanic Cloud.

Needless to say, no one expects planets around this star. They would have had no time to form, since it is only a million years old, the merest stellar infant. And in another million years it will go the way of all mortal things, with an appropriately spectacular demise. That a star which barely holds itself together at all will go out in a supernova is pretty much a given, but with the bonus thrill of antimatter (specifically positron-electron 'pair instability') blowing it apart so completely as to leave no remnant at all, not even a black hole.

How's that for finality?

The image, from Astronomy Picture of the Day, shows 30 Doradus, the Tarantula Nebula.


Anonymous said...

Oooh, a hypernova in only a million years! Our decendents might be around to see it; a spectacular light show, as brief as it is awe-inspiring...


Rick said...

Something to wait for!