The Greatest Star Ever Discovered Just Unveiled A Startling New Understanding

6 mins read

What size can a star reach? It turns out it’s not as big as we thought.

The largest known star has been captured in some of its finest photographs yet, and this suggests that the maximum mass of a sun is likely to be far lower than previously thought.

The mass of the star R136a1 was first estimated to be between 250 and 320 times that of the Sun. According to the latest estimate, its mass ranges from 150 to 230 times that of the Sun.

The star is still a heavyweight record holder with this new estimate of almost 200 solar masses, but the decreased revision of its mass may have deeper ramifications.

The work was done as part of a project called R136 to better understand the cluster in which it is located. It is located in the Tarantula Nebula, a region of the Milky Way’s Large Magellanic Cloud where star formation is active.

Some of the most massive stars ever discovered, whose masses have since been revised downward, are found in this cluster. The work may indicate that our previous stellar upper mass limitations are incorrect since these masses serve as crucial anchor points for the upper mass function of massive stars.

According to astronomer and astrophysicist Venu Kalari of the Gemini Observatory, “Our results show us that the most massive star we currently know is not as large as we had previously imagined.” This implies that the maximum star mass may potentially be lower than previously believed.

Calculations and modeling indicate that there must be a maximum star mass, even though we are unsure of what it is. It is generally agreed that material in the star’s outer layers is forced to be ejected at a point known as the Eddington limit, where the outward pressure from the core’s radiation exceeds the inward gravitational pressure.

Previous studies firmly established the Eddington limit at 150 solar masses. Then, fresh information on the R136 stars was gathered, with many of them measuring in at noticeably greater masses.

These young, extremely hot, and enormous stars not only violated the Eddington limit but also stellar formation theories. Later studies discovered that such chonkers can develop by star mergers, but the Eddington limit problem remains unsolved.

It would be much easier to resolve this perplexing dilemma if we could decide on an upper mass limit based on precise reference points. By acquiring exact data that show the star’s brightness and temperature, one may determine the mass of the star. In order to get fresher, more precise photos of the cluster in general and R136a1 in particular, Kalari and his colleagues set out to do so.

As a result, the team was able to calculate the new masses of R136a1 and two additional big stars in the cluster, R136a2 and R136a3, which were reduced from 195-211 and 180-181 solar masses, respectively, to 151 and 155 solar masses, respectively.

The Greatest Star Ever Discovered Just Unveiled A Startling New Understanding 1

This has effects on how the universe produces heavy materials. You may be aware that big stars eventually collapse into black holes; as a result, a black hole develops from the stellar core. The star can explode in a pair-instability supernova, in which the entire star, core and all, goes boom, if it has a mass greater than around 130 solar masses.

Subatomic reactions lead to the creation of heavy elements during these highly intense occurrences. We need to reconsider the potential contribution pair-instability supernovae might contribute to the heavy elements we witness in space if there are fewer stars in this mass range.

One pair-instability supernova from a 300 solar mass star would produce and release more metals into the interstellar medium than an entire stellar mass function below it, which would fundamentally alter our understanding of galactic chemical evolution modeling, the researchers write in their paper. “The importance of whether or not pair-instability supernovae exist cannot be overemphasized,” they write.

The researchers caution against drawing conclusions from this discovery because it was obtained by straining the Zorro instrument on the Gemini South telescope.

The following step would be to make an effort to verify the conclusions, possibly by using and comparing data from another instrument.


The study has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal.

Ali Esen

Istanbul University, Department of Mathematics. Interested in science and technology.


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