Astronomers have spotted a gigantic star that is releasing unexpectedly large particles of dust every year, causing it to lose an enormous amount of its weight. These particles are very large and are as much as the mass of 30 earths. The process indicates that the star has completed its lifespan and is approaching its demise.
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The red hypergiant star, known as VY Canis Majoris, is one of the largest stars existing in our galaxy Milky Way. It is about 40 times the mass of the Sun and 300,000 times brighter than it. In the ending days of life, the star has expanded so much that it can surround the orbit of Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system.
Astronomers used ESO’s Very Large Telescope to get a closer look at the gigantic red star. The adaptive optics system of the instrument beautifully enhances the features of the bright star and how it lights up the clouds surrounding it.
After analyzing the cloud of dust around the star, astronomers realized that these grains of dust are very large, 0.5 micrometers across and their size is 50 times larger normally found in space between the star systems.
When stars expand, they expelled large amount of materials from their surface in the form of gas and dust and VY Canis Majoris is also no exception. The massive red star will help astronomers to look at supernovae in great detail. Supernovae is a stellar explosion before which the material of the star is pushed outwards into the space. Some of the material is destroyed while the rest starts floating in space. The material will be used producing the next generations of stars and may be some planets.
Scientists are unsure how the material is pushed away into the space before the star explodes. The reason probably is the radiation pressure exerted by the starlight which cause to expel the material out in space.
"Massive stars live short lives," said Peter Scicluna, of the Academia Sinica Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Taiwan and lead author of the study. "When they near their final days, they lose alot of mass. In the past, we could only theorise about how this happened. But now, with the new SPHERE data, we have found large grains of dust around this hypergiant. These are big enough to be pushed away by the star's intense radiation pressure, which explains the star's rapid mass loss."
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