Brilliant but Solitary Superstar Discovered in Nearby Galaxy
This view shows part of the very active star-forming region around the Tarantula Nebula in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a small neighbor of the Milky Way. At the exact center lies the brilliant but isolated star VFTS 682 and to its lower right the very rich star cluster R 136. The origins of VFTS are unclear — was it ejected from R 136 or did it form on its own? The star appears yellow-red in this view, which includes both visible-light and infrared images from the Wide Field Imager at the 2.2-meter MPG/ESO telescope at La Silla and the 4.1-meter infrared VISTA telescope at Paranal, because of the effects of dust. (Credit: ESO/M.-R. Cioni/VISTA Magellanic Cloud survey. Acknowledgment: Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit)
An international team of astronomers  has used ESO’s Very Large Telescope to carefully study the star VFTS 682  in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a small neighbouring galaxy to the Milky Way. By analysing the star’s light, using the FLAMES instrument on the VLT, they have found that it is about 150 times the mass of the Sun. Stars like these have so far only been found in the crowded centres of star clusters, but VFTS 682 lies on its own.
“We were very surprised to find such a massive star on its own, and not in a rich star cluster,” notes Joachim Bestenlehner, the lead author of the new study and a student at Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland. “Its origin is mysterious.”
This star was spotted earlier in a survey of the most brilliant stars in and around the Tarantula Nebula in the Large Magellanic Cloud. It lies in a stellar nursery: a huge region of gas, dust and young stars that is the most active star-forming region in the Local Group of galaxies . At first glance VFTS 682 was thought to be hot, young and bright, but unremarkable. But the new study using the VLT has found that much of the star’s energy is being absorbed and scattered by dust clouds before it gets to Earth — it is actually more luminous than previously thought and among the brightest stars known.
Red and infrared light emitted by the star can get through the dust, but the shorter-wavelength blue and green light is scattered more and lost. As a result the star appears reddish, although if the view were unobstructed it would shine a brilliant blue-white.
As well as being very bright, VFTS 682 is also very hot, with a surface temperature of about 50 000 degrees Celsius . Stars with these unusual properties may end their short lives not just as a supernova, as is normal for high-mass stars, but just possibly as an even more dramatic long-duration gamma-ray burst , the brightest explosions in the Universe.
Story Continues -> Brilliant but Solitary Superstar Discovered in Nearby Galaxy