A massive dying star is giving its last breath 3,800 light years away from our planet. The star is so huge that even if it’s losing the mass of 30 Earths every year, it still has about 200,000 years to live. That might seem a lot for mortal beings, but in the time of the Universe, its end is fast approaching.
The VY Canis Majoris star is a red giant found in the constellation Canis Major and it contains the mass of almost 40 suns, also being 300,000 times brighter. The star is so enormous that if it would be put instead on the Sun, at the core of the solar system, it could encompass Jupiter’s orbit. It is one of the biggest stars observed in our Milky Way Galaxy.
Astronomers have been able to observe the star’s light being scattered and polarized by clouds of gas and dust surrounding it, using a super-advanced research instrument, called SPHERE, from the ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile.
SPHERE uses a system of adaptive optics that corrects images at a higher degree than any other system has ever done before. Using this technology, it makes it possible to see in great detail features that are very close to bright light sources. This is how the clouds of dust particles around the star could be clearly observed and measured.
As it expands, before exploding, this supergiant throws about in the universe huge amounts of dust and gas – about 30 times the mass of Earth, every year. When the star will finally explode, some of this material will perish with it but other will be thrown into the interstellar space. This remaining material could be used to forming new planets once new stars will be born.
It is common for massive giants to live short lives, as once they start dying they lose enormous quantities of matter in a very short time. Though, until soon, this was only a theoretical hypothesis. Now, with the help of SPHERE, those cosmic forces can be observed at work.
In the last days of its life, VY Canis Majoris will heat up to extremely high temperatures and under great pressure it will finally implode, forming an enormous supernova. The huge event will be visible from Earth as it will be as bright as a full moon. Let’s hope there will still be humans on this planet to witness the event of literally cosmic proportions.
Image source: screen capture