NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has found a cluster of “monster stars” — stars that are more than 100 times the mass of our sun — in what they are calling the largest sample of monster stars discovered to date.
This past week, NASA announced that an international team of scientists have found the largest cluster of monster stars ever discovered when the team used the Hubble’s Wide Field 3 camera, combined with the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) — that uses ultraviolet spacial resolution to probe ultraviolet emissions of large star clusters. The combination of these two instruments allowed the scientists to “successfully dissect the young star cluster R136 in ultraviolet light for the first time.”
R136 is a star cluster only a few light years across that is found in the Tarantula Nebula within the Large Magellanic Cloud — a “satellite galaxy” that is a part of the Milky Way. Of the monster stars discovered with R136, four of them exceed 150-times the mass of our sun, five are more than 100 solar masses, and more than a dozen are over 50-times the mass of the sun. Another monster star within the Tarantula Nebula, however, still holds the record for the most massive star ever found in the known universe — R126a1 measures more than a whopping 250 solar masses.
What makes the discovery of these monster stars particularly fascinating is that their existence could potentially change our whole understanding of the way in which stars are formed, reports the Telegraph. Until now, scientists and astronomers believed that monster stars were formed when two smaller stars merged together. However, the amount of monster stars found within R136 means that that simply cannot be the only way monster stars are formed, and that instead, monster stars may be formed just like any other star, says Saida Caballero-Nieves, from Sheffield University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy.
“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.”
The team of scientists will continue to analyze the data received by Hubble about these monster stars, so that they may be able to determine their origin, and thus learn exactly how such massive stars are formed. They will also be analyzing “new optical STIS observations from Hubble” that will allow the team to search for close binary systems within R136. A binary system is when two stars circle around each other, which can produce black holes. Given the sheer number of monster stars in R136, and the fact that monster stars burn out fairly quickly — and can become black holes when they die — binary systems of monster stars could potentially produce massive black hole binaries. Multiple massive black hole binaries occurring within R136 would eventually merge, given the close proximity of monster stars to one another, producing gravitational waves — ripples in the spacetime curvature predicted by Albert Einstein in 1916, and, as previously reported by the Inquisitr,were detected last month by physicists with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO).
The origin and formation of the cluster of monster stars found within R136 still remains a mystery, but as the team of scientists and astronomers continue to analyze the data received by the Hubble Space Telescope, it is likely that our understanding of star formation, and the universe itself, will change as new data and information surfaces.
[Image of Tarantula Nebula via X-ray: NASA/CXC/PSU/L.Townsley et al.; Optical: NASA/STScI; Infrared: NASA/JPL/PSU/L.Townsley et al.]