The biggest star in the universe could be smaller than we thought

The most massive star known in the universe has received the best close-up image yet, and it turns out it could be smaller than astronomers previously thought.

Astronomers using the Gemini South Telescope in Chile photographed the star R136a1Which is located at a distance of about 160,000 light years from the Earth at the center tarantula nebula In Large Magellanic Cloud A dwarf galaxy companion to the Milky Way. Their observations suggest that giant stars (and their ilk) might not be as massive as previously thought.

based on Permission (opens in a new tab) From the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) NOIRLab, which operates the Gemini South Telescope. “One of the trickiest pieces of the puzzle is getting observations of these giants, which typically reside in the dense core of dust-shrouded star clusters.”

Related: Who is the biggest star?

The Zorro Gemini South instrument uses a technique known as speckle imaging, which combines thousands of images of stars with brief exposures in the deep ocean. universe To cancel the blur effect earth’s atmosphereThis technique allows astronomers to more precisely separate the luminosity of R136a1 from that of its nearest stellar counterpart, resulting in the clearest image of the massive star yet.

While previous observations have shown that the size of R136a1 is between 250 and 320 times larger than SundayNew observations from Zorro suggest the giant star’s mass could be closer to 170 to 230 times the mass of the Sun – qualifying as the most massive star yet known.

“Our results suggest that the massive stars we know today are not as massive as we previously thought,” Venu M Kalari, lead study author and astronomer at the Noirlab National Science Foundation, said in a statement. . “This suggests that the upper limit of stellar mass may also be smaller than previously thought.”

A star burst And the temperature depends on the mass. In other words, more massive stars appear brighter and hotter. Astronomers estimate the mass of R136a1 by comparing observed brightness and temperature with theoretical predictions. Because Zorro’s new image more accurately separates the luminosity of R136a1 from that of its nearest stellar counterpart, astronomers can predict that the star has lower luminosity, and therefore less mass, than previous measurements, according to the communicated.

Massive stars like R136a1 thrive, burning up their fuel reserves for a few million years before dying in flames supernova this seed bangs Galaxy With the heavier elements responsible for the formation of new stars and planets. This is the fate of most stars whose mass exceeds 150 times the mass of the Sun. However, if the star’s mass is lower than previously thought, the supernova could be even rarer than previously thought, the researchers noted.

the study is approved for publication (opens in a new tab) In Journal of Astrophysics.

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