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Scientists Discover Biggest Star

CmdrTaco posted about 4 years ago | from the bigger-than-miley dept.

Space 202

Hugh Pickens writes "Scientists at the University of Sheffield have discovered the most massive stellar giant, R136a1 measured at 265 solar masses, using the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope in Chile and data from the Hubble Space Telescope. It's in the Tarantula Nebula in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a small 'satellite' galaxy which orbits the Milky Way. Previously, the heaviest known stars were around 150 times the mass of the Sun, known as the 'Eddington Limit,' and this was believed to be close to the cosmic size limit because as stars get larger, the amount of energy created in their cores grows faster than the force of gravity which holds them together. 'Because of their proximity to the Eddington Limit they lose mass at a pretty high rate,' says Professor Paul Crowther, the chief researcher in the Sheffield team. Hyper-stars like R136a1 are believed to be formed from several young stars merging together, and are only found in the very heart of stellar clusters. R136a1 is believed to have a surface temperature of more than 40,000 degrees Celsius, and is 10 million times brighter than the Sun. Crowther adds that R136a1 is about as big as stars can get. 'Owing to the rarity of these monsters, I think it is unlikely that this new record will be broken any time soon.'"

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202 comments

You think that's big!?!?!? (5, Funny)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about 4 years ago | (#32978038)

"Owing to the rarity of these monsters, I think it is unlikely that this new record will be broken any time soon.""

Owing to the size of the universe, I think it is likely that this new record will be broken sometime soon.

Two theories, now let's sit back and see who's right!

Re:You think that's big!?!?!? (4, Insightful)

Chris Burke (6130) | about 4 years ago | (#32978104)

Two theories, now let's sit back and see who's right!

I think he'll be right for human scales of "soon", and you'll be right for cosmological scales.

Re:You think that's big!?!?!? (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about 4 years ago | (#32978244)

I'll take that bet, too, if you consider 5-10 years as "soon". In the context of astronomical discoveries, that's a fairly decent description.

And ZOMG, I got FP for the first time in my Slashdot career!

Re:You think that's big!?!?!? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32978324)

FP... it does not mean what you think it means.

Re:You think that's big!?!?!? (1)

NotBornYesterday (1093817) | about 4 years ago | (#32978732)

That quote ... it does not mean [slashdot.org] what you think it means.

Re:You think that's big!?!?!? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32978778)

Fart Petition?

Re:You think that's big!?!?!? (1)

shaitand (626655) | about 4 years ago | (#32979530)

"And ZOMG, I got FP for the first time in my Slashdot career!"

Bitch

Re:You think that's big!?!?!? (1)

severoon (536737) | about 4 years ago | (#32979396)

From TFA:

Owing to the rarity of these monsters, I think it is unlikely that this new record will be broken any time soon.

Yea, the only way we'd stand a good chance of finding a bigger star than this would be...well, let's just say there'd have to be thousands of stars for that to even be possible.

Re:You think that's big!?!?!? (2, Interesting)

elocinanna (1640479) | about 4 years ago | (#32978116)

I think more to the point is the size of the bit of the universe we can observe and then process the results of observation for. Something this big is rare for us to see from Earth as it stands and so without an improvement in technology or increase in resources spent on star-gazing it'll remain to be an impressive feat to find another of this size.

..Of course if we talk of this without taking our earthly abilities into account it just turns into a game of looking for an extremely large needle in an infinite haystack.

Re:You think that's big!?!?!? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32979714)

You don't have sex with another person very often do you?

Re:You think that's big!?!?!? (5, Insightful)

Random Data (538955) | about 4 years ago | (#32978122)

Two theories, now let's sit back and see who's right

No theories, but two hypotheses. One of which is actually based on modelling and thought, the other on intuition that the Universe is a big place.

You may be right, but because the Universe is such a big place I *don't* think it's likely to be broken soon, since it's bloody hard to look around. The Tarantula Nebula is nice because it's recent, dense and relatively close, which means this could be found. Of course, they're all relative terms. We've been looking at the Tarantula Nebula for at least 250 years, and we've only found this one now...

Re:You think that's big!?!?!? (5, Funny)

v1k (958019) | about 4 years ago | (#32978338)

>intuition that the Universe is a big place.

Dude, the universe is a big place. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the drug store, but that's just peanuts to the universe.

Re:You think that's big!?!?!? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32978428)

thank you for that insightful commentary. Until now, I had assumed that the universe was no more than twice as big as the distance from my house to the drug store, since that seemed pretty big to me. Now, where do I get my peanuts?

Re:You think that's big!?!?!? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32978520)

it is a reference to a radio play. Or book. Or movie. (depending on which version V1k was referencing. Probably book)

Re:You think that's big!?!?!? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32978562)

Take a left at Milky Way. The peanuts aren't too far down the road from there.

Re:You think that's big!?!?!? (5, Funny)

Psmylie (169236) | about 4 years ago | (#32978580)

Now, where do I get my peanuts?

Depends on how ambitious you're feeling. If you'd prefer not to venture out into the vastness of space, I'd suggest checking between and under the couch cushions.

Re:You think that's big!?!?!? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32978780)

Now, where do I get my peanuts?

You don't have to get any. Ford gives them to you after you wake up aboard the Vogon ship.
But good luck getting the Babel fish.

Re:You think that's big!?!?!? (1)

weicco (645927) | about 4 years ago | (#32979762)

Have you noticed that the distance from your house to the nearest drug store is constant but the distance back from the drug store changes vastly depending the prescription? Weird shit. Once it took me a week to even remember where I lived!

Re:You think that's big!?!?!? (1)

maxume (22995) | about 4 years ago | (#32978560)

HAHAHAHAHA 42.

That's a big Twinkie (1)

Picass0 (147474) | about 4 years ago | (#32978790)

TSIA

Re:You think that's big!?!?!? (2, Funny)

bunratty (545641) | about 4 years ago | (#32979008)

You've just given me flashbacks to my time in the total perspective vortex, you insensitive clod!

Re:You think that's big!?!?!? (1)

oldhack (1037484) | about 4 years ago | (#32979224)

I am not getting it. Just how big is this universe thing?

Re:You think that's big!?!?!? (1, Insightful)

Nutria (679911) | about 4 years ago | (#32978938)

One of which is actually based on modelling and thought

Except that the Eddington Limit was also based on modeling and thought, but was then smashed by reality.

2.5 years ago, astronomers with a spreadsheet "discovered" that the Milky Way is really 2x thicker than previously accepted.

While I'm glad that Science allows scientists to alter their theories and beliefs, ISTM that too many astronomers/cosmologists think they know far more than they really know.

Re:You think that's big!?!?!? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32978142)

"sometime soon"? Give a goddamn date and then we can sit back and see who's right.

Re:You think that's big!?!?!? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32978152)

"soon" is meaningless due to relativity, especially when discussing exotic cosmic objects. Not only is very likely that record been "broken", its already happened - so I should say this breaks no records as we don't know what the record is. Whether we'll find out about it on the other hand...

"The views expressed here are mine and do not reflect the official opinion of my employer or the organization through which the Internet was accessed."

Re:You think that's big!?!?!? (3, Insightful)

Sockatume (732728) | about 4 years ago | (#32978288)

We can't readily measure the size of stars across the whole universe, and you think that our likelihood of finding a star even closer to the Eddington limit is a slam-dunk? I think the guy who found this one has a pretty good idea how hard they are to come across.

Re:You think that's big!?!?!? (2, Funny)

Killer Instinct (851436) | about 4 years ago | (#32978294)

"In theory, practice and theory are the same. In practice, they are not."

Re:You think that's big!?!?!? (0, Troll)

sexconker (1179573) | about 4 years ago | (#32979448)

"In theory, practice and theory are the same. In practice, they are not."

I hate this quote.
In theory and in practice, theory and practice are separate and different.

Re:You think that's big!?!?!? (3, Interesting)

SETIGuy (33768) | about 4 years ago | (#32978846)

Owing to the size of the universe, I think it is likely that this new record will be broken sometime soon.

The record is for the largest one found, not the largest one in the universe. These things are pretty difficult to find. They're all in dense clusters in active star forming regions. The cluster R136 is so dense that prior to the launch of HST we thought that there were fewer stars in it, but each of those stars would have been several hundred solar masses. HST was able to resolve those superstars into multiple smaller (50 solar mass) stars. Except for this one, apparently.

We haven't found any equivalent star clusters in the Milkyway (yet). It's possible there aren't any. Maybe something about the composition or dynamics of Galactic gas prevents such large stars from forming. No other galaxy would be close enough that we could resolve cluster into individual stars. The SMC doesn't have active star formation. So we're stuck with the LMC as a target for finding a larger star. There's no other cluster in the LMC like R136, so to break this record we'd probably need to find a larger star in the same cluster. Or we would need to find out that R136a1 is a multiple star system containing 2 or more smaller stars rather than one star of 265 solar masses.

As far as how significant this is... I'm sure it will drive star formation theorists nuts trying to build stars that big in a cluster environment. But as a find, in and of itself, they looked for a really huge star in what is well known as the only place you're going to possibly find a really huge star. It seems kind of like "discovering" a route from your front door to the bus stop when you know where both of them are. Given how many people are interested in star forming regions, I'm kind of wondering why nobody did it earlier. I may have to read the paper to see if some interesting or difficult technique was necessary.

Original Journal Article (2, Informative)

catchblue22 (1004569) | about 4 years ago | (#32979546)

Here is a posting [sciencemag.org] on Science Magazine's ScienceNow, and here is the original journal article [eso.org] originally published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomy Society. I think it is always better, when possible to refer to original sources when talking about scientific issues. Scientific discussions can become muddled when translated by journalists.

The Biggest Open Source Starr (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32978044)

Mr Reiser exhaled deeply. Cigarette smoke drifted slowly towards the back of the car, dancing on the stuffy air slowly circulating the 1983 Cadillac Coupe Deville. Hans cracked the window a little; things were getting too musty even for his tastes. It had been a long day, and he feared it would be an even longer night. He reached towards the old stereo and twisted the tuning knob. Static. "I guess that's all you're gonna get in the deserts of Nevada", he thought. Onwards into the night.

Some time later, Reiser was startled by the headlights and horn of an approaching vehicle. He jumped wide awake. "Damn, must have started to drift off..." he mused, not slowing down for one second. Perhaps the sweet release of death would have been welcome. Perhaps not. Best to purge such thoughts. Another oncoming car passed. "Must be getting close to Vegas now...", Hans muttered. Time for another cigarette. Inhaling the sweet smoke for all it was worth, Mr Reiser reached over to the passanger seat. Sitting there was his trusty Thermos flask. Bringing the flask towards his lips, he gulped down the hours old coffee. It was still quite warm. Sweet nectar. "At least this should keep me awake for a while". Hans washed the coffee down with some more smoke. They might have been cheap cigarettes, but damn they were good. Hans knew he shouldn't smoke. "Why worry about something that could kill you in 15 years when there's so much that could kill a man now?", he always concluded.

Rumble. "Did I hear something..?" Rumble. Hans started to wonder if there was something wrong with his trusty Cadillac. Rumble rumble. Suddenly it hit him. That wasn't his car, it was his stomach, his bowels, his very innards. "Can't be long to Vegas now Hans, hold on in there old boy, you can make it." He had planned to have a weekend of whores and slots, having taken care of some long overdue business that very weekend. Maybe then he'd leave the country. Who knows. Rumble. The coffee and cigarettes were taking their toll with increasing aggression. Hans' ageing body couldn't take the laxative effect as it once could. "I'm getting too old for this shit", he mumbled, and wondered once more what it'd be like to just flick the wheel and end it all. "I'd probably get even that wrong and end up as a vegetable", he thought with a sadistic grin creeping across his face.

The urge had gotten too strong, Hans knew he had to stop the car. Hesitant to pull over in the pitch black, he slowed down and wondered if there was anywhere off the beaten track that might be safe. Rumble. Things were getting desperate. Reiser reasoned that things would probably be ok, after all no cars had passed in quite a while. And god knows he had to shit. It was decided, the choice was taken from him. Slowing down some more, Hans pulled off the old road and into the desert. A couple of hundred meters down the road, Reiser slammed on the brakes, almost jumped out of the car and pulled his jeans down. They hadn't been washed in a month or more, but who cared about that? He only masturbated once per day, and his weekly shower ensured his nob didn't poison his jeans with stale semen too much. Besides, whores were paid to fuck and keep their mouth shut.

Hans was squatting now, his stomach rumbling like an earthquake and anus hanging inches from the floor. "Let's get it on", he said aloud. Reiser barely had to push. With a god like blast, liquid diarrhea gushed from within him. Pints of glorious brown liquid spraying in all directions onto the hard rocky floor. Hans inhaled deeply. Could it be that this was better than inhaling a cigarette? Quite possibly. The stream finally started to slow, chunks spluttering from his filthy shit caked ring. "Liquid shit truely is the only way to shit", Mr Reiser thought. The almost paedophilliac smile crept back across his face. This was the life.

Finally, Hans was ready to get back on the road. He had some old tissue to clean up the mess, but he was unsure if it'd deal with the state of his ass. He didn't care. He wiped as much of the dripping brown goo from his sphincter as possible, and went to pull his jeans up. Squelch. Uh oh. In his haste, Hans had shat into his jeans, filling them to the brim. A brown swamp of shit soup was now floating in his y-fronts, and he could feel the overflow dripping down his inner legs. It felt good. Damn it felt good. Hans removed his jeans, his lower half now smeared entirely with his own feces. The smile was back. He looked down, and realised he was sporting an almighty erection. "I dont think I've ever been this hard..." The smile spread. Hans knew what he had to do.

Scooping up half a litre of the foul excrement, Hans rubbed his hands together and lubed up. Shit made for the perfect lube. The colour allowed for contrast; his skinny pale white cock against the dark browns of his poo, the glorious smell, the perfect thick liquid texture. Dawn was approaching, allowing him to see his immediate surroundings, to see his disgusting body hunched over in the dark. He'd have to be quick, lest he be seen from the road as the lightness grew. Unable to contain himself any longer, Hans began masturbating furiously, inhaling and groaning. His legs grew weak, fuck it - he lay on the floor and rolled around in his own filth. Backwards and forwards, his throbbing member getting worked like a slave. Lumps of his shit made their way under his foreskin, down his japs eye and all over his balls. He had never felt so good. Never.

Just a few minutes later, Hans lay on his back and threw his legs into the air. He leaned back, his cock poised above his open mouth. Slowly now, he began to tease his shit stained penis. "Oh that's right big boy, you like this don't you, you're going to take a load aren't you, you little slut." Furiously fingering his anus with his free hand, his eyes started rolling. He began milking himself faster and faster, until something inside his lower stomach quivered and spasmed, hard. He released more ejaculate than he could ever have hoped for. Blasting into his mouth, the hot liquid sloshed around his tonsils as he gargled his own seed. Shit dripped down his shaft and off the end of his cock, creating the most orgasmicly delicious cocktail he had ever had the pleasure of tasting. Finally, he spat it out onto his rancid hands, stood up and rubbed the concoction into his hair. He needed it to look good for the whores, and he knew from experience just how well this worked as gel. He looked down at his unkempt pubes. "If I only I'd tasted my pubes as well..."

The sun was definitely rising now. Time to get back to the car. Fully naked, Hans picked up his clothes and shuffled back to his Cadillac. Throwing his clothes into the back, he lit a cigarette and resumed his drive. "Vegas baby", he said with a grin.

Re:The Biggest Open Source Starr (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32978426)

I was going to say "Dude, seek help", but now I realize you're way beyond help, all the help in the world wouldn't make a damn bit of difference. So, in the best interest of the rest of the world, please shun yourself away from society and never ever come back.

Re:The Biggest Open Source Starr (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32978510)

I lol'd

Pretty cool but... (4, Funny)

elocinanna (1640479) | about 4 years ago | (#32978048)

Anyone could find something if it's that big! Wake me up when they find the smallest one! :p

Re:Pretty cool but... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32978096)

Here's a list of all the smallest known stars [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Pretty cool but... (1)

2obvious4u (871996) | about 4 years ago | (#32978702)

That wasn't punny...

Re:Pretty cool but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32979618)

Here's a list of all the smallest known stars
You left out the brown dwarf [wikipedia.org] .

(too soon?)

Re:Pretty cool but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32978504)

Have you checked your pants lately? That's a good contender.

Re:Pretty cool but... (3, Funny)

An ominous Cow art (320322) | about 4 years ago | (#32979218)

Is this the joke thread? Ok, here's mine...

Twinkle, twinkle, really freaking big star...

I guess it's time to update the earth to star (1)

assemblerex (1275164) | about 4 years ago | (#32978072)

comparison animations, as we are now more inconsequential than ever!

Re:I guess it's time to update the earth to star (2, Interesting)

RivenAleem (1590553) | about 4 years ago | (#32978398)

Just you wait until some committee somewhere out there decides that the sun is too small and inconsequential to be classed as a real star. If it happened to Pluto...

Re:I guess it's time to update the earth to star (1)

Digital Vomit (891734) | about 4 years ago | (#32978824)

comparison animations, as we are now more inconsequential than ever!

Sentence fragments are really

Re:I guess it's time to update the earth to star (1)

jonamous++ (1687704) | about 4 years ago | (#32979358)

Read the subject, then the body. The first part of his sentence is the subject. The second part of it is the body of the comment.....

R136a1 or Rieshai (1)

jack2000 (1178961) | about 4 years ago | (#32978082)

Maybe they should have named it Rieshai instead of using numbers.

Re:R136a1 or Rieshai (1)

Sique (173459) | about 4 years ago | (#32978212)

Which would be (rather bad) German and could be translated as "wet meadow shark" (even though the term "Ries" for a wet, grassy plain is not often used in contemporary German).

Re:R136a1 or Rieshai (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32978704)

Wait, Germany has meadow sharks? Why was I not informed?

Unhealthy Universe? (4, Funny)

Hoi Polloi (522990) | about 4 years ago | (#32978086)

Clearly obesity is not just a problem on earth.

Unhealthy indeed... (1)

leonardofelin (1211778) | about 4 years ago | (#32978150)

I'll need more sunscreen.

Re:Unhealthy Universe? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32978390)

Smoking and speeding also seem to be endemic.

Perhaps we should require suns to switch to snus and wear helmets.

Yo momma's so fat (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32978946)

she's measured in solar masses.

Re:Unhealthy Universe? (1)

sconeu (64226) | about 4 years ago | (#32978996)

I was waiting for a CowboyNeal joke on this...

Re:Unhealthy Universe? (1)

ITBurnout (1845712) | about 4 years ago | (#32979110)

Not only is it obese, it's got gas.

Still not as big as (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32978140)

Your mom.

how many library of congress is that? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32978174)

or actually, how does this compare to VY canis majoris?

Mass vs Radius (4, Insightful)

TheMidnight (1055796) | about 4 years ago | (#32978230)

One thing the article didn't mention was the radius of the new star. It's obviously larger than the sun, but is it the "largest" star found or simply the most massive? It seems with that kind of mass it might be denser than your average supergiant and have less volume, and therefore less radius.

Re:Mass vs Radius (2, Informative)

AstroMatt (1594081) | about 4 years ago | (#32978366)

Stars on the main sequence get less dense the hotter/brighter they are. When the evolve off the main sequence, they get bigger still. It's likely this has the largest radius, too. Very interesting formation mechanism ... stellar collisions!

Re:Mass vs Radius (1)

meringuoid (568297) | about 4 years ago | (#32978534)

One thing the article didn't mention was the radius of the new star. It's obviously larger than the sun, but is it the "largest" star found or simply the most massive? It seems with that kind of mass it might be denser than your average supergiant and have less volume, and therefore less radius.

It's blue, therefore it's hot, therefore it's dense, therefore it's (comparatively) small. VY Canis Majoris would be much larger, even if not so massive - and cooler, and therefore red. Indeed, notice the diagram in the article, showing this star as compared to the Sun. The Sun is visible on the diagram. This would not be the case with VY Canis Majoris!

It's all gas law really, just like in high school physics. pV = nRT. When a star contracts, it heats up; when it expands, it cools. As a supergiant's core switches on and off as it works its thermonuclear way up the periodic table, it may inflate and deflate over and over again.

Re:Mass vs Radius (1)

delt0r (999393) | about 4 years ago | (#32978922)

You are wrong because you have completely neglected the heat source. More massive stars are hotter because they burn more fuel. The volume to surface area ratio means the cores are hotter and larger compared to a less massive star, that means more fusion. So as stars get more massive, they get hotter and less dense and hence have a larger radius.

Re:Mass vs Radius (1)

meringuoid (568297) | about 4 years ago | (#32979186)

Ah, but core temperature isn't what we're interested in here. We're interested in the surface temperature. What are the dynamics of a star's atmosphere - of the outer layers of gas not participating in nuclear fusion? Well, there's gas pressure which tends to make the atmosphere expand and cool, and gravity which tends to make the atmosphere contract and heat up. As the atmosphere expands and cools, gas pressure decreases, and as the atmosphere contracts and warms, thermal pressure increases, and eventually an equilibrium is struck where the gas pressure outwards equals the gravitational force inwards.

The core heat source is actually secondary to this. More massive stars are hotter because they are more massive - the sheer mass of gas that collapsed from a nebula to form such a star provides huge amounts of energy by gravitational accretion. Then, because of being so hot to begin with, they burn fuel faster than their smaller, cooler cousins, and that keeps them hot.

So the largest stars are the ones where the equilibrium is found at a point where the atmosphere is large, sparse and cool, and hence red. This isn't such a star. In a super-hot star like this the radiation pressure comes to predominate over gas pressure, and that has a tendency to blow any surrounding gas clean away. It's too heavy, and, as you say, too hot, and very unstable. So it can't form a well-behaved convective envelope around itself and become a red hypergiant. It remains a very massive, very hot, and very luminous star, but it never troubles the list of the largest stars known.

Re:Mass vs Radius (2, Informative)

olsmeister (1488789) | about 4 years ago | (#32979114)

Red giant stars would have a much larger radius. The radius of R136a1 is estimated at something like 30 times that of the sun. [bbc.co.uk] It is thought that our own sun, when reaching the end of its lifetime, may expand past the orbit of the earth, or 93,000,000/432,000: about 215 times it's original radius.

Here is the link to the original paper. [eso.org]

not unlikely to be broken (1)

wjh31 (1372867) | about 4 years ago | (#32978236)

On the contrary, the record is probably being broken currently, or maybe even was broken millions/billions of years ago, but the light has yet to reach us, our technology is unable to detect it, or we arnt looking in the right direction.

Re:not unlikely to be broken (1)

Nadaka (224565) | about 4 years ago | (#32978460)

The thing about records is...

They are not really records until they are recorded.

Re:not unlikely to be broken (1)

rossdee (243626) | about 4 years ago | (#32979164)

Recorded by who?

Re:not unlikely to be broken (1)

necro81 (917438) | about 4 years ago | (#32979238)

There's bound to be some sort of koan [wikipedia.org] in there, along the lines of the tree falling in the forest:

If a really freakin' huge star is created in the universe and no one is around to observe it, does it break a record?

Temperature on the surface of Sol (3, Informative)

metamechanical (545566) | about 4 years ago | (#32978264)

For anyone curious, as I was, what the surface temperature of our star is: 5500 degrees C

My source was NASA's world book page [nasa.gov] (then again, it goes on to state that our solar system has nine planets, so trust NASA at your own risk)

I was already impressed by VY Cannis Majoris... (1)

Picass0 (147474) | about 4 years ago | (#32978266)

... a star so large if you swapped it with our sun it's surface would extend past Saturn's orbit.

Anonymous Coward (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32978298)

I puzzled over this for a bit too, but this newly discovered star is the most massive discovered. The largest known star in terms of size is still VY Canis Majoris at ~2000 solar radii, but only ~20 times the mass of the Sun.

Re:Anonymous Coward (3, Interesting)

Chris Burke (6130) | about 4 years ago | (#32978720)

Well yeah, the first line of the summary says "most massive", which in astronomy is usually (usually) what "biggest" means.

Though it is admittedly ambiguous. I was watching Jeopardy (a taped episode a friend of mine was in and *won*) and one of the answers was "It's the biggest planet after Jupiter and Saturn", and the correct question was "Neptune?" (the 3rd most massive) but the contestant questioned "Uranus?" (3rd largest diameter). The judges ended up accepting it due to the ambiguity of the question.

And I know that I personally consider the Jeopardy judges to be the ultimate authority on when something is ambiguous and multiple interpretations are valid!

Re:Anonymous Coward (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32978834)

The correct question is "What is Uranus/Neptune?" ...

Re:Anonymous Coward (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | about 4 years ago | (#32979092)

I edited for brevity. Though I think it would be funny if simply giving the "answer" with an upturned inflection was sufficient.

Yo momma so fat ... (4, Funny)

jbeaupre (752124) | about 4 years ago | (#32978358)

she breaks the Eddington limit! (sorry, couldn't help myself)

Re:Yo momma so fat ... (1)

tooleb (1786596) | about 4 years ago | (#32979128)

I had the same thought....

Link to research paper (arxiv) (5, Informative)

Octoploid (855458) | about 4 years ago | (#32978360)

Here is the link to the research paper: http://arxiv.org/abs/1007.3284 [arxiv.org]

VY Canis Majoris (3, Interesting)

Spacelem (189863) | about 4 years ago | (#32978364)

The article states that R136a1 is 265 solar masses, however it doesn't say how big it is.

VY Canis Majoris is 2,100 times the size of the sun, and 230,000 times the size of Earth. It is so huge, that if it occupied the centre of our solar system, its boundaries would be Saturn's orbit.

If R136a1 is the heaviest star, then it must be considerably more dense than VY Canis Majoris, but I find the latter to be far more impressive.

Re:VY Canis Majoris (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32978800)

If a star is so big that it goes out past Saturn's orbit, its radius is 2100 times our Sun's radius. That makes it 2100^3 times the volume of our Sun. In other words, VY Canis Majoris is 10 billion times the size of our Sun!

dom

Re:VY Canis Majoris (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32979046)

Don't worry, if you just wait around long enough I'm sure that R136a1 will swell up to a much larger size. And shortly thereafter it will shrink rapidly. And then expand very, very, very rapidly....

Scientists are late. (1)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | about 4 years ago | (#32978442)

These scientists are quite late to the party. Tamilians had discovered the Biggest Star, The Super Star, Rajnikant [wikipedia.org] way back in 1975.

So these stars are Orkans? (1)

Chas (5144) | about 4 years ago | (#32978488)

"Unlike humans, these stars are born heavy and lose weight as they age,"

If I get burned to death by Johnathan Winters I'm going to be PISSED!

peck (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32978500)

I always though that the biggest star was Prince :/

What bugs me about stories about space (1)

dimethylxanthine (946092) | about 4 years ago | (#32978502)

is that discoveries like that require extensive use of one's imagination to visualise what the biggest star, the longest gravitational jet or the exoplanets that have been "imaged directly" actually look like... An "artist's impression" is to astrophysics as artificial flavouring is to food.

Oblig.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32978522)

We should never need a star more than 265 solar masses.

Why isn't it... (1)

camperdave (969942) | about 4 years ago | (#32978620)

256 solar masses? I thought everything over 10 solar masses collapses into itself, forming a black hole. What's going on with this star?

Re:Why isn't it... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32978788)

They don't do it immediately. They burn for a while, and then when they have exhausted their fuel they collapse. If they are massive enough they can collapse to black holes. In order to do that they need to keep more than about 1.4 solar masses, after any matter ejection that occurs as part of the collapse process.

Re:Why isn't it... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32978826)

There are several methods of star death depending on star mass and composition. For stars in the 130-2xx solar mass range (the upper bound isn't clear), the common result is something called a pair-instability supernova. As the star ages (quite rapidly for such a large star), it heats up. When gamma ray production in the core (which is temperature dependent) hits a certain point, the gamma rays start to spontaneously create electrons and positrons. Since these particles travel much slower than gamma rays, more of the energy is trapped in the core, which causes it to heat up, which produces more gamma rays... you see where I'm going with this. The net result is that the core temperature spikes, everything fuses to iron instantly, and the star blows up without leaving a black hole behind.

Stars between 50 and 130 masses collapse directly into black holes at the end of their natural lifespan without exploding.

Stars like this one, above 2xx solar masses (again, not sure where that bound is and it's probably dependent on composition, spin rate, etc.) are going to do something a bit different - their cores get *so* hot that the energy actually rips apart all the heavier elements that the star created through fusion. This uses up energy, cooling and contracting the core catastrophically, which results in a good ol' fashioned rebound supernova (well, hypernova, really) and a black hole remnant just like stars in the 20-50-ish solar mass range.

Re:Why isn't it... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32978918)

The mass limits you're thinking about refer to the ultimate state of a star, not its immediate state. Stars over a certain mass are doomed to become black holes once they've exhausted their fusion fuel and can no longer resist the forces of gravity. Less massive stars will not become black holes at the end of their lives. But in any case, very massive stars can exist because the outward pressure from fusion is enough to resist the inward pressure of gravity.

As for the actual limits [wikipedia.org] , if the end-of-lifetime mass (after shedding outer layers, etc.) is below 1.4 solar masses, it becomes a white dwarf. If it's above that, it instead collapses into a neutron star... or if the remaining mass is above 4 solar masses, collapses all the way down to a black hole.

Re:Why isn't it... (1)

NotBornYesterday (1093817) | about 4 years ago | (#32979006)

The same thing keeping any star from collapsing: fusion. Black holes form when a star of sufficient mass (which is where the Tolman–Oppenheimer–Volkoff limit of 10 solar masses comes in) can't support itself through nuclear reaction in its core. See also supernovae.

Can we watch it die? (1)

Nadaka (224565) | about 4 years ago | (#32978630)

The more massive the star, the shorter its life as it burns through its fuel more quickly.

Stars smaller than the sun are believed to endure for hundreds of billions or even trillions of years.

Stars of near the suns size last for billions to tens of billions of years.

Large stars are believed to last for tens or hundreds of millions of years.

The largest previously known stars at up to a hundred times the suns mass are believed to live for only a few hundred thousand or million years.

How long will this star last? Millennia? Centuries? Decades?

Re:Can we watch it die? (1)

imakemusic (1164993) | about 4 years ago | (#32979098)

I'm no expert by any means but here are some numbers I pulled out of...Google. By extrapolating from what this guy says [nasa.gov] I get an answer of about only 750,000 years and judging by what else I've read that number is probably very low. Not that long on the cosmic scale but a little longer than you or I will be around for.

The "Eddington Limit" is NOT based on science (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32978734)

It is merely a revenue generator.

Ten million times brighter than the Sun? (2, Interesting)

fuego451 (958976) | about 4 years ago | (#32978804)

How do they measure that? As an amateur astronomer, I understand relative magnitude but...wow. I'm guessing they use some other method? Also, would this star be considered a super-massive blue giant or...?

Re:Ten million times brighter than the Sun? (4, Interesting)

Kaz Kylheku (1484) | about 4 years ago | (#32979540)

I'm guessing that what it probably means is that this star is estimated at having ten million times the power output compared to the Sun. Therefore, at some fixed reference distance, it would deliver ten million times more watts of illumination per square meter. This doesn't mean that the surface brightness is ten million times greater than that of the Sun, because some of the brightness comes from the greater size of the star. If you make a lamp with one hundred light bulbs, they are not individually brighter than a single light bulb, but as an aggregate, they provide more illumination, and can be more easily seen from farther away.

Your momma jokes.... (1)

mace9984 (1406805) | about 4 years ago | (#32979012)

Ready and ... Start!

New name for R136a1 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32979042)

Since R136a1 is a rather boring name, based on the physical description I propose the name "Mother-in-Law of All Stars".

what does 265 solar masses mean? (2, Funny)

oddTodd123 (1806894) | about 4 years ago | (#32979148)

I need that in units I can comprehend:

The mass of the sun is 1.99x10^30kg. The average mass of a book is 340g. There are 21,814,555 books cataloged by the Library of Congress. So, 265 solar masses * 1.99x10^30kg/solar mass * 1000g/kg / 340g/book / 21,814,555 books/LoC = 7.1x10^25LoC. Therefore, the new star is equivalent in mass to 71YLoC (yotta Libraries Of Congress). Wow, that's a big star!

Uhoh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32979230)

Céline Dion is really pissed that she was just over taken

Oh noes, 265! (2, Funny)

RegTooLate (1135209) | about 4 years ago | (#32979298)

256 solar masses should be enough for anyone.

"Unlike humans ..." (3, Insightful)

Kaz Kylheku (1484) | about 4 years ago | (#32979408)

From article: "Unlike humans, these stars are born heavy and lose weight as they age," Crowther said.

This is obviously wrong. Some humans are plump when young, and turn into skeletons as they age.
In fact, this is commonly observed among those humans who, ironically, are called ``stars''.

Re:"Unlike humans ..." (1)

hesaigo999ca (786966) | about 4 years ago | (#32979562)

i don't know how to rate this, funny, offtopic, troll....there is just too many levels to your comment.. O_O

Eddington (1)

hesaigo999ca (786966) | about 4 years ago | (#32979554)

Eddington I guess was a hog for headlines, why would he need to say there is a limit to anything, on what grounds did he base it on, did he get core samples of our sun, was he anywhere near the sun to see if maybe there might be some form of material missed in his calculations to know how the sun keeps its light (fire) going....

I find too many space scientists are using their theories and saying that this is fact. I just hope now we can have an end to this, and go on thinking the universe is limitless like the church tells us it is....

Meh. (1)

PPH (736903) | about 4 years ago | (#32979624)

Marlon Brando. Old news.
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