A team of astronomers have identified nine very massive stars — with masses over 100 times that of the sun — within the star cluster R136, also known as RMC 136 which lies at the center of the Tarantula Nebula in the Large Magellanic Cloud 170,000 light-years away from us.
This amazing discovery was achieved by using Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) to captured ultraviolet imagery of the massive, young stellar cluster R136 home to some of the biggest, hottest and brightest stars in the universe — R136a1 is one of these giants, the largest known star in the universe to date, at more than 250 solar masses).
R136 is just a few light-years wide and is located in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a nearby galaxy and a satellite of our galaxy, the Milky Way.
So, why this discovery is a big deal? First, this makes R136 the largest sample of monster stars found to date. Second, it could help scientists to better understand how these massive stars form. The study were published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
There have been suggestions that these monsters result from the merger of less extreme stars in close binary systems,
said team member Dr. Saida Caballero-Nieves.
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.
In addition to these nine stars, astronomers also detected numerous stars with over 50 solar masses, many of them are hot, luminous and massive stars, radiating most of their energy in the UV range of the spectrum, this how astronomers found them.
The ability to distinguish ultraviolet light from such an exceptionally crowded region into its component parts, resolving the signatures of individual stars, was only made possible with the instruments aboard Hubble,
explains Paul Crowther ~ lead author of the study.
Together with my colleagues, I would like to acknowledge the invaluable work done by astronauts during Hubble’s last servicing mission: they restored STIS and put their own lives at risk for the sake of future science!
What it is also interesting about these stars not only their size but researchers say that these ‘monsters’ lose mass extremely quickly over the course of their lives, they are also exceptionally bright, together the nine biggest ones are about 30 million times brighter than the sun.
At the moment, nobody know why these stars end up to be so large as well their origin but it is a good opportunity to researchers to analyze the datasets gathered in order to answer these questions.
Once again, our work demonstrates that, despite being in orbit for over 25 years, there are some areas of science for which Hubble is still uniquely capable.