Shop Discovery Banner Image
skip to main content

Most Massive Star Detected

Evidence suggests a newly found star is more than 300 times bigger than the sun -- twice the size of anything previously discovered.

Irene Klotz
By Irene Klotz
Wed Jul 21, 2010 08:10 AM ET
12 Comments | Leave a Comment
  • A star more than 300 times more massive than the sun was detected about 22,000 light-years away.
  • That size is twice as big as previously known stars.
  • Previous claims of stars more than 150 times the mass of the sun have turned out to be clusters.
massive star

A new image of the R136 cluster shows the cluster at the lower right. The image provides unique details on the stellar content of the cluster. Click to enlarge this image.
ESO/P. Crowther/C.J. Evans

Get big, die young. Such is the fate of behemoth stars, the largest of which are about 150 times the mass of the sun. A new study, however, finds evidence for stars more than twice that size, including an uber-giant so luminous that it makes the light of our sun look no brighter than the glow of the full moon in comparison.

Isolating the light of the biggest stars is a difficult and tedious process. Massive stars are rare, distant, short-lived and crammed inside dense clusters that are shrouded in dust. In the past, reports of stars up to 2,000 times the size of the sun all turned out to be clusters of stars, not single, massive objects.

"People have been trying to find the most massive star and to determine the upper mass limit of stars, but it's like prospecting for gold. You have to sift through a whole lot of junk and there's also a lot of fool's gold," said Rochester Institute of Technology astronomer Donald Figer. 

Armed with new high-resolution imagery, an international team of astronomers is throwing down the gauntlet again with studies on NGC 3603, a very young star cluster located about 22,000 light-years away in the Milky Way's Carina spiral arm, and RMC 136a, which resides in the Tarantula Nebula, located 165,000 light-years away in our neighbor galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud.

In addition to chemical analysis and precision position measurements, astronomers checked they weren't seeing binary pairs by scanning for telltale X-rays that would come from the clash of solar winds. They didn't find any, leading the team to conclude that they had, in fact, uncovered several stars in the Large Magellanic Cloud cluster which began their lives between 165 and 320 times the mass of the sun.

Among their findings, the star R136a1, found in the R136 cluster, is the most massive star ever found, with a mass of about 265 solar masses and with a birthweight of as much as 320 times that of the sun.

The Milky Way's giant stars were more modest -- 105 to 170 solar masses -- and were included to validate computer models that also were used in the study.

"We can rule out that we have two stars close by," Raphael Hirschi, an astrophysicist with Keele University in the United Kingdom, told Discovery News. "We have achieved a high enough resolution to definitely rule out that it might be a cluster of stars."

Lead scientist Paul Crowther, at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom, said stars about 300 solar masses could be the new limit, at least in our corner of the universe.

"We considered stars with 1,000 solar mass, but there weren't any clusters big enough. You don't get big stars in small clusters," Crowther told Discovery News.

Figer, for one, isn't convinced.

"The claims in the paper rely on a series of assumptions and uncertain models, and there are possible interpretations that are not discussed,"  he wrote in an email to Discovery News. "It would be interesting to see another study that could examine these claims."

The study appears in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

12 Comments | Post a Comment


Login required, click here to begin
This Page
Add images
Echo 12 Items
Paul Crowther
thanks Alex! For anyone interested (Don perhaps?) some FAQ are here: http://pacrowther.staff.shef.ac.uk/r136a1.html
3 days ago, 20:16:20
Man Chris Thomas, you're still trolling here?  Let me guess... Irene is a NASA shrill who's trying to keep us all blinded to the TRUTH about Planet X coming?
Wednesday, July 21, 2010, 22:33:07
Chris Thomas
I say:  "Whoop de doo." 
Tell me why this is news?  Who cares?   There's a billion, billion Plus of Stars out there and Astronomers make a big deal of finding another star that is only 265 times the size of our Sun ? 
You know I get a little suspicious about these NASA/CIA/US Government controlled astronomers "discovering" new stars and whatever when our Earth Home is in Tatters, The sky is full of Anomalies, Floods and Famine are killing so many people. 
The UN is Corrupt to the core, Governments only look after their own, corporations reward very bad behaviour of it's managment, Wall street bad boys get off with a slap on the wrist. 
It's no wonder Earth is due for a cull, and a big one to be sure. 
Wednesday, July 21, 2010, 12:03:55
What's so bad about wanting to learn about the stars? It's not like they're making slaves do the work, and some astronomers use their own money, because I don't believe the U.N. cares about astronomy as much as these guys and me do, so don't be so mean.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010, 14:23:45
Let the man say what he wants this is a public comment area for all kinds of opinions no matter what. Unless someone comes off as being really rude or swearing or spamming not of what this user is doing. I agree with a few things he says here, some people are just mad or whatever so let them vent online it's not hurting anyone because were all just online.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010, 16:49:30
3 more (expand)
If it truely is something to not care about, then why comment on here at all? Sure it wasn't entirely mean spirited or nasty, but at least relate criticism to the contents in the article- not your disapproval of it's existence.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010, 21:37:28
Alex Anders
The discovery was made by a European team led by Paul Crowther, a professor of astrophysics at the University of Sheffield in England. They used the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope in Chile's Atacama Desert, and confirmed their observations with archived data from the Hubble Space Telescope. The ESO is supported by fourteen European nations and the European Space Agency.  
So I'm not really sure how a multinational European research program triggers a suspicion of "NASA/CIA/US Government controlled astronomers"... but hey, whatever.  
If anyone is interested, Dr. Crowther has a number of excellent published works, many of which you can find referenced here:  http://pacrowther.staff.shef.ac.uk/main.html
5 days ago, 02:34:30
Should bullet three of "The Gist" section read 2,000 not 150?
Wednesday, July 21, 2010, 11:50:16
Irene Klotz
Hi, stars as big as 2,000 solar masses have been found to be multiple objects, as has stars bigger than about 150 solar mass, as well -- Except for this one, so far. Thanks for keeping us on our toes.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010, 15:59:41
Ian O'Neill

our networks



customer service