Using the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in the Paranal Observatory in northern Chile, astronomers from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) have discovered the largest stars observed to date, one of them with a mass 300 times greater than the Sun’s, which in turn is twice the currently accepted limit of 150 masses.
The team, led by University of Sheffield astrophysics professor Paul Crowther, found several stars with temperatures higher than 40,000 degrees, around seven times the Sun’s temperature, some of them dozens of times larger and several million times brighter than it.
The most remarkable and impressive one was named R136a, is located at a distance of some 165,000 light years, has a current mass of 265 solar masses and a birth weight 320 times greater than the Sun’s. The thing is that stars are born with significant weight, which they subsequently shed as the years go by. In addition, it is around 10 million times brighter than the sun.
The astronomers, who described the discovery as a rarity, believe that it would be very hard for a discovery like this to be repeated – at least not in such a brief period of time.
The star R136a was discovered in two young stellar cumuli (groups of stars attracted by their gravity) known as NGC 3603 and RMC 136a. According to the experts at the ESO, NGC 3603 is a star factory, where stars are born in the vast clouds of gas and dust in the nebula located some 22,000 light years away from the sun.
For its part, RMC 136a is a cumulus of hot, young and massive stars located inside the Tarantula Nebula, part of the Great Magellanic Cloud, one of the galaxies neighboring the Milky Way 165,000 light years away.
The astronomers also explained that if R136al were to replace the Sun, then life on earth would be impossible as its high mass would reduce the duration of a year on Earth to three weeks and bathe the planet with an incredibly intense ultraviolet radiation.
Lastly, the specialists said that the discovery confirms the previous idea that there is a maximum size for stars, but that it has been multiplied twofold.