Astronomers Discover Impossibly Huge Star

It's at least 265 times more massive than the sun

By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff

Posted Jul 21, 2010 10:25 AM CDT

(Newser) – Astronomers have discovered a star so big and bright that it stretches the boundaries of what scientists believed was possible. The star, known so far only as R136a1, has an observed mass 265 times greater than our sun, and modeling suggests it was once 320 times bigger. “If it replaced the sun in our Solar System, it would outshine [it] by as much as the sun currently outshines the full moon,” astronomer Paul Crowther told the BBC.

But that's impossible, scientists say, because no solar systems would ever form around monster stars like R136a1. "Planets take longer to form than these stars take to live and die," says Crowther, whose team discovered the star using data from both the Very Large Telescope in Chile and the Hubble. Until now, the biggest stars found have been 150 times the mass of the sun, and many theorized that outwardly pushing radiation would cap a star's growth at some point. Now, they're not sure what the limit might be.

A new near-infrared image of the R136 cluster, obtained at high resolution with the European Southern Observatory's MAD adaptive optics instrument. R136a1 is located at the center of the image.
A new near-infrared image of the R136 cluster, obtained at high resolution with the European Southern Observatory's MAD adaptive optics instrument. R136a1 is located at the center of the image.   (Associated Press)
This image released by the European Space Agency zooms in on star R136a1, which is believed to be the heaviest star ever discovered, and sits 165,000 light years from earth.
This image released by the European Space Agency zooms in on star R136a1, which is believed to be the heaviest star ever discovered, and sits 165,000 light years from earth.   (AP Photo)
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