Stunning Hubble image is a collage of monster stars

18 Mar 2016

The Hubble Space Telescope has trained its powerful eye on the cosmos once again, and has now composed an incredible image that contains nine monster stars 100-times bigger than our own sun.

Despite their ominous name, monster stars are simply stars that, compared with our own sun, are gigantic, typically over 100-times the size of our nearest star.

Their formation is very much of interest to the scientific community, which is why the Hubble Space Telescope was recruited to help that community analyse one young star cluster that contains quite a few monster stars, R136.

Located 170,000 light-years away in the Tarantula Nebula, within the Large Magellanic Cloud, R136 was selected by a team from the Royal Astronomical Society for analysis due to the fact that nine monster stars are contained within it.

Just to add more mind-boggling perspective to how powerful these stars are, the nine stars combined outshine the sun by a factor of 30 million.

There are also a dozen not-so monster stars with a solar mass around 50-times that of our sun contained within the cluster, but they pale in comparison with the universe’s largest known star, R136a1, which has 265 solar masses.

Star cluster

The young and dense star cluster R136 can be seen at the lower right of the image. Image via NASA, ESA, P Crowther (University of Sheffield)

Back in 2010, the same team from the University of Sheffield in the UK had analysed the same patch of the night sky, revealing four stars within the cluster, each with over 150 solar masses.

This came as something of a surprise to the scientific community, as this exceeded what was once considered the upper-mass limit for stars. The number of monster stars has since been increased to nine.

During the team’s investigations, the suns’ output was analysed on the ultraviolet spectrum, revealing they eject up to an Earth mass of material per month at a speed approaching 1pc of the speed of light, resulting in extreme weight loss throughout their brief lives.

Co-author of the study Saida Caballero-Nieves said of the team’s new findings: “There have been suggestions that these monsters result from the merger of less extreme stars in close binary systems.

“From what we know about the frequency of massive mergers, this scenario can’t account for all the really massive stars that we see in R136, so it would appear that such stars can originate from the star formation process.”

Giant star image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic