written by: Anurag Ghosh•edited by: RC Davison•updated: 5/9/2011
Move aside Pistol star, this bright star in the R136a star cluster is the new record-holder for being the most massive star in the explored Universe. Weighing 265 solar masses, this newly discovered heavyweight star is a thousand times brighter than the Sun. Here are some interesting facts.
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History and Date of Discovery
This super massive star in the R136a star cluster was discovered by a team of British astronomers in July 2010. The star was discovered using the Very Large Telescope (VLT) at the European Southern Observatory located in Chile.
The team of British astronomers was led by Paul Crowther, Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Sheffield. The VLT was initially used to study both the R136a and NGC 3603 star cluster.
Initially, astronomers found four stars in the star cluster weighing more than 150 solar masses. Among them, they discovered that R136a1 to be the most massive among the four stars, and on July 21, 2010, they came to a conclusion that it is the most massive star to be ever discovered.
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Type: Wolf-Rayet Star
Declination: -69 degrees
Apparent magnitude: 12.77
Distance: 165,000 light years
Solar mass: 265 solar masses
Radius: 35.4 solar radii
Luminosity: 8.7 x 106 solar luminosity
Temperature: 56,000 Kelvin
Star Cluster: R136a Super Star Cluster
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This rare, heavyweight star is at least 8,700,000 times more luminous than the Sun. It is found in the R136a super star cluster, which is located near the center of the Tarantula Nebula. This nebula is in the Large Magellanic Cloud, which is better known as the Milky Way’s satellite galaxy.
According to astronomers, massive stars that weigh up to 300 solar masses end their lives as hypernova. Normal stars weigh anything between 8 and 150 solar masses and generally perish as supernovae, but the recently discovered star is massive, and weighs around 265 solar masses, and so it will end its life with an enormous stellar explosion having energy equal to more than 100 supernovae—a hypernova.
The R136a star cluster has tens of thousands of normal stars and hundreds of rare, heavyweight stars. These stars are so bright that if a planet orbits one of them in the center of the cluster, there won’t be any day and night cycle.
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More Amazing Facts
This massive star has a mass 265 times greater than our Sun. Previously scientists thought that no star would exceed more than 150 times the mass of the Sun. But, the discovery of this enormous star was the most surprising find in the history of astronomy.
Imagine what would have happened if this star replaced our Sun in the Solar System. The gravitational attraction would have pulled our planet closer to it, making one Earth year only 3 weeks. But, don’t presume that life would have survived. The intense ultraviolet radiation emitted from this massive star would have made life impossible on our planet.
Heavyweight stars like the recently discovered star in the R136a star cluster are very rare and have a very short life.
Previously, the Pistol Star and the Eta Carinae held the title of being the largest heavyweight stars in the known Universe. Now, R136a1 holds the new record as the most massive star in the explored Universe.