Astronomers using the Gemini South Telescope in Chile, part of the Gemini International Observatory, have obtained a clear image of R136a1, the largest known star in the Universe.
This giant star is a member of the constellation R136, a dwarf galaxy to the Milky Way, located in the center of the Tarantula Nebula in the Large Magellanic Cloud, about 160,000 light-years from Earth. Astronomer Venu Kalari conducted the study at the NOIRLab laboratory.
Previous observations have shown that the mass of R136a1 is 250-320 times that of the Sun. However, Zorro’s new observations show that the mass of this giant star may be only 170-230 times the mass of the Sun. Even with this low estimate, R136a1 is still the most massive star known.
«Our results show that the most massive star we know today is not as massive as we previously thought— Explained Kalari. “This suggests that the upper limit of stellar mass may be smaller than previously thought.”
The constellation that hosts R136a1 has previously been observed by astronomers using NASA/ESA’s Hubble Space Telescope and various ground-based telescopes, but none have been able to obtain images sharp enough to distinguish all the stars in the nearby cluster.
Gemini South’s Zoro instrument was able to surpass the resolution of previous observations by using a technique known as speckle imaging, which allows ground-based telescopes to overcome the blurring effect of Earth’s atmosphere.
«This result shows that under the right conditions, the 8.1-meter telescope, if pushed to its limits, could compete not only with the Hubble Space Telescope in terms of angular resolution, but also with the James Webb Space Telescope. — Ricardo Salinas, co-author of the study, commented.
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