What could be the better astronomical target for telescope than the biggest star in the universe? But do you know what it is?
The world of astronomy doesn’t cease to amaze. Such was the case on March 7, 1801, when Jrme Lalande, a French astronomer, discovered a 7th magnitude star that dwarfed all of the previous findings. So important was his discovery that it enthralled astronomers all over the world.
VY Canis Majoris
Known as VY Canis Majoris (VY CMa), it’s 4,900 light years away from the earth. This star is one fiery giant and the largest ever observed. Located in the Canis Major constellation, it dwarfs our sun 1,500 times over. To put it into clear perspective, the sun has an estimated radius of 432,288 miles. Were it to take the sun’s position, VY Canis Majoris would stretch a distance that extends beyond the orbit of Jupiter. At a whopping 614.10 million miles radius.
This red giant does not only rank high in terms of size, but it also does so when it comes to brightness. Being a magnitude 7 star, it’s among the 50 brightest stars in the universe. It’s got a luminosity of 5.6 x 10^5 L⊙, which fluctuates periodically to a lower value of around 3 x 10^5 L⊙. These periodic changes categorize the star as a semi-regular variable that’s got an estimated period of 2,200 days.
With its immense size and awe-inspiring luminosity, this star hasn’t been fully understood by astronomers. For instance, the six distinctive bright spots led astronomers to believe that VY CMa was actually a collection of stars. But with the advanced technology in astronomical instruments, this belief took a whole new turn. The Hubble Space Telescope shed some new light to this discovery. The bright spots were just but bright areas within the cloud of gas and dust surrounding the star. This had led to understanding, that the VY Canis Majoris a single colossal star.
But even with this important discovery, the exact size and luminosity of this red giant are still a matter of debate. Figures given are only estimates and not the precise measurement. Despite most astronomers putting the radius of this star at 1,400 times that of the sun, the size actually ranges to 1,800 times.
The confusion regarding the size, density, and temperature of VY Canis Majoris has attributed to its ever-changing limit and a rapid loss of mass. This makes it difficult to get an accurate measurement of its radius. Furthermore, the fact that the star is 4,900 light years away from the earth is just but an estimate, not until we get a more accurate tool that will be able to give its exact position.
Despite all the confusion, the fact still remains that VY Canis Majoris is a gargantuan star. Apart from its luminosity, this star has got a huge mass of 5.967 x 10^31 kg. Compared to the sun’s mass of 1.989 x 10^30 kg, VY CMa is a real hypergiant and a rare astronomical phenomenon in the Milky Way. And when talking about hyper giant stars, the Milky Way has got only 10 of them among the billions of stars it contains.
Hypergiant stars are basically stars that have an enormous mass and luminosity, sporting a very rapid loss of mass. They dwarf the supergiant stars and are known to be more active with brief life cycles. The impressive luminosity and brief life cycle of hyper giant stars are attributed to the fact that they lose their mass at a staggering rate. While other stars have a life cycle that lasts billions of years, hypergiants only last for a few million years. For instance, VY Canis Majoris sports a life cycle of only 12 million years.
Watch: VY Canis Majoris compared to planets in our solar system:
VY Canis Majoris is currently at half its mass and continues to sport that active and restless nature. It’s a highly volatile red giant that’s expected to explode into a hypernova in the near future. A hypernova is one immense explosion resulting from an extreme core collapse. It’s more of a very energetic supernova that creates a rotating black hole.
A hypernova is the most powerful explosions since the Big Bang, releasing immense energy equivalent to a whopping 1,000 supernovas. It’s an explosion that consumes the tiniest element of matter. The hypernova generated by VY Canis Majoris is expected to be quite a breathtaking phenomenon. Starting to get worried? Well, there’s no need since the red giant is just too far to affect us. What we have to do is just wait and hope that one of our next generations of astronomers will be able to at least tell about this rare occurrence.
So, what could be the more exciting astronomical target for telescope than the biggest star in the known universe? And what is the good news is that VY Canis Majoris can be easily seen also with amateur telescopes, such as Orion 8974 SkyQuest XT8. In addition, you could possibly visit some observatory, and get a really amazing view of VY Canis Majoris through professional astronomy & research grade telescope. Take a look at our US observatory directory, to locate the nearest facility in your state. Be sure to discover also the top five astronomical targets for amateur astronomers.
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