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Hubble unveils monster stars

Date:
March 17, 2016
Source:
ESA/Hubble Information Centre
Summary:
Astronomers using the unique ultraviolet capabilities of the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have identified nine monster stars with masses over 100 times the mass of the Sun in the star cluster R136. This makes it the largest sample of very massive stars identified to date. The results raise many new questions about the formation of massive stars.
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FULL STORY

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 of the image. This cluster contains hundreds of young blue stars, among them the most massive star detected in the Universe so far. Using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope astronomers were able to study the central and most dense region of this cluster in detail. Here they found nine stars with more than 100 solar masses.
Credit: NASA, ESA, P Crowther (University of Sheffield)

An international team of scientists using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has combined images taken with the Wide Field Camera 3 with the unprecedented ultraviolet spatial resolution of the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph to successfully dissect the young star cluster R136 in the ultraviolet for the first time [1].

R136 is only a few light-years across and is located in the Tarantula Nebula within the Large Magellanic Cloud, about 170,000 light-years away. The young cluster hosts many extremely massive, hot and luminous stars whose energy is mostly radiated in the ultraviolet [2]. This is why the scientists probed the ultraviolet emission of the cluster.

As well as finding dozens of stars exceeding 50 solar masses, this new study was able to reveal a total number of nine very massive stars in the cluster, all more than 100 times more massive as the Sun. However, the current record holder R136a1 does keep its place as the most massive star known in the Universe, at over 250 solar masses. The detected stars are not only extremely massive, but also extremely bright. Together these nine stars outshine the Sun by a factor of 30 million.

The scientists were also able to investigate outflows from these behemoths, which are most readily studied in the ultraviolet. They eject up to an Earth mass of material per month at a speed approaching one percent of the speed of light, resulting in extreme weight loss throughout their brief lives.

"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 from the University of Sheffield, UK, and lead author of the study. "Together with my colleagues, I wouldlike 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!" [3]

In 2010 Crowther and his collaborators showed the existence of four stars within R136, each with over 150 times the mass of the Sun. At that time the extreme properties of these stars came as a surprise as they exceeded the upper-mass limit for stars that was generally accepted at that time. Now, this new census has shown that there are five more stars with more than 100 solar masses in R136. The results gathered from R136 and from other clusters also raise many new questions about the formation of massive stars as the origin of these behemoths remains unclear [4].

Saida Caballero-Nieves, a co-author of the study, explains: "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."

In order to find answers about the origin of these stars the team will continue to analyse the gathered datasets. An analysis of new optical STIS observations will also allow them to search for close binary systems in R136, which could produce massive black hole binaries which would ultimately merge, producing gravitational waves.

"Once again, our work demonstrates that, despite being in orbit forover 25 years, there are some areas of science for which Hubble is still uniquely capable," concludes Crowther.

Notes

1] R136 was originally listed in a catalogue of the brightest stars in the Magellanic Clouds compiled at the Radcliffe Observatory in South Africa. It was separated into three components a, b, c at the European Southern Observatory , with R136a subsequently resolved into a group of eight stars (a1-a8) at ESO, and confirmed as a dense star cluster with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope after the first servicing mission in 1993.

[2] Very massive stars are exclusive to the youngest star clusters because their lifetimes are only 2-3 million years. Only a handful of such stars are known in the entire Milky Way galaxy.

[3] STIS's capabilities were restored in 2009 by astronauts who successfully completed Serving Mission 4, one of the Hubble's most challenging and intense servicing missions, involving five spacewalks.

[4] The ultraviolet signatures of even more very massive stars have also been revealed in other clusters -- examples include star clusters inthe dwarf galaxies NGC 3125 and NGC 5253 . However, these clusters are too distant for individual stars to be distinguished even with Hubble.


Story Source:

The above post is reprinted from materials provided by ESA/Hubble Information Centre. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Paul A. Crowther et al. The R136 star cluster dissected with Hubble Space Telescope/STIS. I. Far-ultraviolet spectroscopic census and the origin of He ii λ 1640 in young star clusters. MNRAS, 2016

Cite This Page:

ESA/Hubble Information Centre. "Hubble unveils monster stars." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 March 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/03/160317114540.htm>.
ESA/Hubble Information Centre. (2016, March 17). Hubble unveils monster stars. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 25, 2016 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/03/160317114540.htm
ESA/Hubble Information Centre. "Hubble unveils monster stars." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/03/160317114540.htm (accessed July 25, 2016).

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