Mostly Mute Monday: The Largest Star in the Universe (Synopsis)

“The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long.” -Lao Tzu

With hundreds of billions of stars in the Milky Way, you'd think the largest star we've ever discovered would be in the most intense star-forming regions here, perhaps towards the galactic center. It's a good thought, as we've discovered stars up to 175 solar masses there, but it's wrong.

Image credit: NASA, ESA, ESO, D. Lennon and E. Sabbi (ESA/STScI), J. Anderson, S. E. de Mink, R. van der Marel, T. Sohn, and N. Walborn (STScI), N. Bastian (Excellence Cluster, Munich), L. Bedin (INAF, Padua), E. Bressert (ESO), P. Crowther (Sheffield), A. de Koter (Amsterdam), C. Evans (UKATC/STFC, Edinburgh), A. Herrero (IAC, Tenerife), N. Langer (AifA, Bonn), I. Platais (JHU) and H. Sana (Amsterdam). Image credit: NASA, ESA, ESO, D. Lennon and E. Sabbi (ESA/STScI), J. Anderson, S. E. de Mink, R. van der Marel, T. Sohn, and N. Walborn (STScI), N. Bastian (Excellence Cluster, Munich), L. Bedin (INAF, Padua), E. Bressert (ESO), P. Crowther (Sheffield), A. de Koter (Amsterdam), C. Evans (UKATC/STFC, Edinburgh), A. Herrero (IAC, Tenerife), N. Langer (AifA, Bonn), I. Platais (JHU) and H. Sana (Amsterdam).

As it turns out, the largest star we know of is located some 160,000 light years away in the local group's fourth largest galaxy: the Large Magellanic Cloud. At the very center of the Tarantula Nebula, itself 1000 light years across, lies the star cluster R136, which contains at its core a single star some 260 times the mass and more than seven million times the luminosity of our Sun.

Image credit: NASA, ESA, F. Paresce (INAF-IASF, Bologna, Italy), R. O’Connell (University of Virginia, Charlottesville), and the Wide Field Camera 3 Science Oversight Committee. Image credit: NASA, ESA, F. Paresce (INAF-IASF, Bologna, Italy), R. O’Connell (University of Virginia, Charlottesville), and the Wide Field Camera 3 Science Oversight Committee.

Go get the whole story -- in pictures, video and words -- on today's Mostly Mute Monday!

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Supposedly metals are the enemy of giant star formation. I think this is because they increase opacity enough that photon pressure drives off gas for very dense stars. Presumable the LMC didn't do a lot of star formation and has relatively pristine interstellar gas, I would imagine gravitational interaction with the MilkyWay initiated intense star formation only recently.

So, If our goal is to find very massive stars, we should look to dwarf galaxies undergoing a first starburst event.

By Omega Centauri (not verified) on 06 Apr 2015 #permalink

How long do you think it will take before we discover an even larger star ? Will the star we know of as the largest one be able to exist for longer than the sun?

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By W Terblanche (not verified) on 06 Apr 2015 #permalink

the big bang isnt it the reason behind star formation in our universe

With photos like these (thanks, Ethan; a pleasant birthday present), it begins to help us realize the scale of our universe. If we were able to get to the middle of the Tarantula starfield, the separation from each star would still be measurable in LY mainly, give or take a few doublets, or triplets.

I enjoy your stories, but.... Scienceblogs formatting works, but medium.com is UNUSABLE. Please consider sharing your full stories here. Thanks.

By A. Reader (not verified) on 06 Apr 2015 #permalink

Would it be possible that we were blindsided by the idea that great masses produces greater stars and therefore missed the spectacular star hidden on its own?

By MA Jordaan (not verified) on 06 Apr 2015 #permalink

Would it be possible that we were blindsided by the idea that great masses produces greater stars and therefore missed the spectacular star hidden on its own?
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By MA Jordaan (not verified) on 06 Apr 2015 #permalink

Amazing to thing how huge the universe actually is , we are so caught up in our little world and solar system , that we forget about everything out there , this star is so enormous and so bright , but it could also be that this star no longer exists , and what we see of it is only a ghost of it .

By D. Bredenkamp … (not verified) on 06 Apr 2015 #permalink

I found your blog very intriguing and highly informative. I love investigations about the solar system and the world around us. As the milkyway galaxy has the largest number of stars in the solar system, you'd expect the largest star to be found there but surprisingly the largest star is found in The Large Magellanic Cloud. The universe is a very complex but yet interesting place which always amazes us because once you think you have figured it out and it's patterns, something totally unexpected occurs. Thank you for sharing such insight with us

By Mamobu Mabunda (not verified) on 06 Apr 2015 #permalink

How do people measure the size of a star and how accurate are their measurements? I agree with PJ, these magnificent photos makes us realize there is a lot more to the universe than we think.

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This may be the largest star found, but considering that the universe is so vast, there could possibly be stars even larger than this particular one. With more advanced technology in the future, scientists could explore undiscovered parts of the universe which could lead to the discovery of larger stars.

By DS Moosa (15027504) (not verified) on 07 Apr 2015 #permalink

That is a very incredible revelation;when I saw the synopsis caption,my first guess was that the largest star in the universe must be in the galactic centre.And so it turns out,I was wrong.It is so easy to assume that our galaxy holds supremacy over the relative existent galaxies out there.Thank you for sharing this information.
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By Ntokozo Dlamini (not verified) on 07 Apr 2015 #permalink

Related question: Why do all photos of stars show 4 rays of light at 45 degrees from the vertical/horizontal planes, instead of just showing a plain light dot? It looks like the effect was put there on purpose, but all photos from all sources show this feature.

By Rafael A Bernal (not verified) on 07 Apr 2015 #permalink

If we consider that the largest star is observable by our current technologies there is always the possibility that this star is only the biggest up to date and that advancements in our technology will provide us with increasingly better optics which in turn will reveal more of our seemingly endless universe.What units is used in the measurements of luminosity.

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By A.C van Zyl (not verified) on 07 Apr 2015 #permalink

Yes. So what? Why the blinding flash of the obvious from so many people?

This does the opposite of make you look smart.

" “The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long.” -Lao Tzu"
It is fascinating how there's such a hype about the largest star yet it burns out so fast before our very eyes. Shouldn't we be paying more attention to the smaller insignificant stars then?
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By A, Govender (not verified) on 07 Apr 2015 #permalink

The Earth is constantly expanding and as so the stars seem closer therefore this may not be the largest star in the milky way but perhaps the largest star due to its distance from the expanding Earth.

By u15006680 (not verified) on 07 Apr 2015 #permalink

No, the earth is not expanding, the stars do not appear to be closer and therefore your result, though possibly correct, would be so by entire accident rather than your design.

@Rafael #13 The 'spikes' are due to the spider used to support the secondary mirror in the optical chain. As starlight comes into the telescope, that light hits the spider vanes at the 'grazing angle' of them. In a photo where you see 4 'rays' , the spider has 4 vanes as support. In the case of 6 'rays' appearing, the spider invariably has 3 vanes. The light tends to image itself at 180 degrees to the vane as well as showing the original spike. These are actually useful to help determine the angular size of the star observed. With solid objects such as the planets, our own sun,or extended objects (nebulae, clusters, galaxies), these artifacts do not show since they are not pin points of light.
Hope this helps a little.

If I dipped my penis into a star and then attempted to spread the plasma on a piece of toast, as if it were strawberry jam, then would nuclear fusion continue to take place at my breakfast table? Talk about a morning boost of energy!

Yup, Brian is hopefully sarcastically pointing out the stupidity of some of the rubbish being posted on this website.

I considered doing the same thing myself, but couldn't think of anything that doesn't sound like someone has already done that.

We know our sun is the center and the largest star in our galaxy and it's outstanding to us so the fact that this larger star is " more than seven million times the luminosity of our Sun" shows how magnificent it is.
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By A, Govender (not verified) on 07 Apr 2015 #permalink

How was the picture of the largest star taken?
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By Tshegofatso Pooe (not verified) on 08 Apr 2015 #permalink

Wow... I was just saying stupid shit to amuse myself. What's even more amusing is that you're on this website, trying to dispute the Big Bang, something all scientists agree to be true. Let me guess, you think evolution is a hoax too, huh? Why even come to this website then? Stay on your conspiracy theory websites while the adults (aka Ethan) do actual science.

What’s even more amusing is that you’re on this website, trying to dispute the Big Bang, something all scientists agree to be true.

No, what's amusing (and, really, this will crack you up bigtime!) is that is totally 180 degrees round the wrong way!!!

What a hoot!

@#23 Tshegofatso Pooe
rather than fill this blog with a description of how the photos are achieved, may I suggest you search for HST, the Hubble Space Telescope for a more in depth description of the processes of capturing such pictures. Other sources are available such as Mt. Palomar 200 inch telescope, Mt Wilson 100 inch, Mauna Kea observatory. All these and many more will give you a great background into the processes involved. Making your own telescope could also help, then study photographic techniques. Astrophotography is quite aninvolved topic.

Wow, go thump your Bible somewhere else while the grown-ups discuss science. K, little buddy?

Ah, I see Brian. You weren't being sarcastic, you were being a troll.

Carry on, dearie. Nobody cares.

How did they discover this star?
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By Lizanne Lombard (not verified) on 08 Apr 2015 #permalink

Are the colorful clouds real clouds in space? Or are they aligned around some specific planet or star?

The illustrations used is really breath taking .How far can photos be taken, and what would they use?
As what can a light year be described ?
The founding is cute amazing and can have big implications on what we can reach and descover

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By u15135919 (not verified) on 09 Apr 2015 #permalink

Excellent post and quite a remarkable revelation.

Since the Large Magellanic Cloud is home to the Tarantula Nebula, which is the most active star-forming region in the Local Group, is there a possibility that an even larger star could form within the LMC?
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By Yuko Tabei (not verified) on 09 Apr 2015 #permalink

It's amazing to think this star is 260 times the mass of our sun and more than seven million times the luminosity of it as well.... I'm curious whether this star will exist for a longer period than our sun?

If we had the capability to travel to that starfield, how, in space, would we be able to navigate through the cluster? I imagine as we approach closer, many of the stars would gradually disappear, go supernova, etc., lessening our points of reference. As we get nearer, the stars would appear to be shifting away from our craft as our perspective constantly changed. I would think our computer would be constantly mapping our position relative to those stars, then on the way back, it would have to fill in those stars which disappeared on the way in, which, now, have reappeared as we are out-bound.

Wow is upset because I exposed him as anti-science Bible-thumping Jesus-fucker. I'm sorry, sweetheart. As soon as Jesus pulls his dick out of your ass, be sure to grab a Biology book and read up. Okay, bud?

Ah, Bri, how can so much fantasy make such a fool of itself.

Never mind, dear, I'm sure god will reward you in the end. With his Mighty Rod, no doubt!

May I also suggest, Bri, that you cut out the crass swearing and if you want to continue to imply sexual misconduct use the double-entedre approach which is less crude and can be somewhat inventive and amusing.

Continuing your method will only get you banned.

Oh no, I'll get banned!?!??!! LOL...Oh, heaven's no! Anything but that!! LOL!!

Wow, I started making fun of you for being religious, which obviously hit a nerve. Now you're double-posting comments pointed directly at me while threatening me with banishment. Please continue to be oblivious to the fact that you're giving me exactly what I want. I love knowing that I got to you. Please...continue :)

Bri, please stop being a twat.

I'm asking.

Do or do not, up to you, but I'm asking you to stop.

Since talking to you offends and frightens you so much, I will ignore you from now on.

It's always interesting to read up on how far into space we've been able to discover. It is a reminder of not only how small we are as a planet...as people. but how narrow minded we are as well.
The universe is infinite with stars and galaxies whose distances from us outlast generations of humans. The images in this post are beautiful!!
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By Jaclyn Moneron… (not verified) on 10 Apr 2015 #permalink

Stars are generally referred to as big, gassy planets. Does anyone know what the processes or methods are for determining what kinds of gasses exist on which stars?

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By Louie-Pieter (not verified) on 13 Apr 2015 #permalink

About 7 billion years from now our sun will expand and intensify to such an extent that it will engulf Earth. 13242033.

By A van Wyk (not verified) on 14 Apr 2015 #permalink

"It burns so hot and intense, it’s probably already gone. But what a sight!"
Very informative post indeed. I like the way you highlighted that despite the beauty of the sight of the star, the star (large stars) has a relatively short life span. This is because it burns extremely fiercely and the star blows itself apart expelling much or all of the star's material which is why its probably all gone. This explosion is also known as a supernova.
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By T Masilonyane (not verified) on 14 Apr 2015 #permalink

That is an amazing discovery indeed. It's also amazing what we can do with technology, there's not much that I can add, but I'd love to reiterate what a commenter said about this not being the largest star but rather the largest star to date. It's fascinating to know that there is a larger star than sun, but I guess that's the beauty of technology and science.
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By H Madonsela (not verified) on 14 Apr 2015 #permalink

I believe this currently larger star is our initial gate way to discovery of even larger stars. I was once told that our Galaxy is shifting away from us due to the fact that old stars are reflected small when viewed in the sky. If this is the case,do you thing that this larger star will reflect being small in one of the planets of the same galaxy as that star?

By Kgopotso Phakw… (not verified) on 15 Apr 2015 #permalink

This star may be the largest so far but i believe that there are more undiscovered galaxies with Largest stars than the current one. I always wondered that if the galaxy was moving away from us as science once stated that the galaxy is reflecting away relative to the size of the stars being small every now and then that would this star too reflect small relative to the planets around its galaxies?

By Kgopotso Phakw… (not verified) on 15 Apr 2015 #permalink

It truly is a magnificent finding and just the beauty of all the stars and the intensity with which they glow and grow is amazing, makes one wonder how much more beauty is in space.
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Astronomy has always been very remarkable to me by how incomprehensibly big it is and the shear amount of beauty and mystery it holds. One of which is that there are only a certain amount of star-forming regions, each with a certain amount of materials to create stars with but what would happen to the galaxy if all of these star-forming regions run out of materials to build stars with? Would the galaxy then ultimately die because of this?
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By Adam Boyens (not verified) on 15 Apr 2015 #permalink

truly is an honor to follow your blog Ethan, you blog about the most interesting things. I enjoy reading your work.

By christopher reeves (not verified) on 17 Apr 2015 #permalink

THIS IS INDEED A PROFOUND DISCIVERY ABOUT THE NEW STAR THAT IS DISCOVERED IT SHOWS THAT SCIENCE IS ELEVATING

By lesego mathe (not verified) on 18 Apr 2015 #permalink