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Starts With A Bang

Most Massive Collection Of Giant Stars Ever Revealed By Hubble

Including the most massive star ever discovered in the Universe.

“The night has a thousand eyes, and the day but one;
Yet the light of the bright world dies with the dying sun.” 
Francis William Bourdillon

When giant clouds of neutral, cool, molecular gas collapse, they give rise to new stars, with the largest ones containing enough gas to birth many millions of them.

The Large Magellanic Cloud, the fourth largest galaxy in our local group, with the giant star-forming region of the Tarantula Nebula just to the right and below the main galaxy. Image credit: NASA, from Wikimedia Commons user Alfa pyxisdis.

The vast majority of the newborns are low in mass, with 95% of them no bigger than our Sun. But a significant number are more massive, hotter, brighter and bluer.

A combination of instruments on the ESO’s very large telescope reveals wide-field and narrow-angle views of the Tarantula Nebula. Image credit: ESO/P. Crowther/C.J. Evans.

The largest such cluster is 30 Doradus in the heart of the Tarantula Nebula, some 170,000 light years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud. This satellite galaxy undergoes tidal disruption from our galaxy, triggering star formation.

The grand star-forming region inside the Tarantula nebula, revealed in the infrared. Image credit: NASA, ESA, F. Paresce (INAF-IASF, Bologna, Italy), R. O’Connell (University of Virginia, Charlottesville), and the Wide Field Camera 3 Science Oversight Committee.

Inside are millions of infant stars, including thousands of short-lived behemoths. While they compose less than 1% of the total stars by number, they account for nearly 10% of the mass.

At the heart of 30 Doradus lies the concentrated star cluster R136, containing the most massive stars ever discovered.

A near-infrared image of the R136 cluster, obtained at high resolution with the MAD adaptive optics instrument at ESO’s Very Large Telescope. Image credit: ESO/P. Crowther/C.J. Evans.

The single greatest is R136a1: 250 times our Sun’s mass. Nine total stars over 100 solar masses, as well as dozens over 50, are found inside.

This multi-wavelength image of the Tarantula Nebula reveals hundreds of incredibly hot, blue stars, and the concentration of them in the cluster R136. Image credit: NASA, ESA, P Crowther (University of Sheffield).

These nine largest stars, combined, outshine the Sun by 30,000,000 times. All will die in catastrophic supernovae, creating massive black holes when they do.

An ultraviolet image and a spectrographic pseudo-image of the hottest, bluest stars at the core of R136. Nine stars over 100 solar masses and dozens over 50 are identified through these measurements. Image credit: ESA/Hubble, NASA, K.A. Bostroem (STScI/UC Davis).

Mostly Mute Monday tells the story of a single astronomical phenomenon or object in pictures and other visuals, with no more than 200 words of text.

This post first appeared at Forbes. Leave your comments on our forum, check out our first book: Beyond The Galaxy, and support our Patreon campaign!


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