Hubble Space Telescope Spots Cluster of 9 Monster Stars

The image shows the central region of the Tarantula Nebula in the Large Magellanic Cloud. The young and dense star cluster R136 can be seen at the lower right. (PHOTO CREDIT: NASA, ESA, Crowther of University of Sheffield)
The image shows the central region of the Tarantula Nebula in the Large Magellanic Cloud. The young and dense star cluster R136 can be seen at the lower right. (PHOTO CREDIT: NASA, ESA, Crowther of University of Sheffield)

It’s the biggest gaggle of massive stars we’ve seen since the Academy Awards: New images from The Hubble Space Telescope show a cluster of nine monster stars — each one more than 100 times more massive than our sun. One of them is the previously discovered R136a1, which is the most massive, luminous star in the known universe.

“Together these nine stars outshine the Sun by a factor of 30 million,” according to a statement from the European Space Agency, which operates the telescope with NASA.

In addition to those nine headliners, the young star cluster R136 — located about 170,000 light years away in the Tarantula Nebula — also contains dozens of stars of at least 50 solar masses.

“Because they are so massive, they are all close to their so-called Eddington limit, which is the maximum luminosity a star can have before it rips itself apart; and so they’ve got really powerful outflows. They are shedding mass at a fair rate of knots,” the University of Sheffield’s Paul Crowther told the BBC. Crowther is the lead author of a study on the newly imaged stars, set to be published soon in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

According to Crowther and his colleagues, these stars are shedding an Earth’s mass worth of gas and dust each month — so they won’t live for very long. Stars as massive as these only live for a couple million years or so, which is why they’re so rare in older galaxies like our own.

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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Rachel Feltman