A star which is at least 1,500 times wider than our own sun, the red supergiant known as W26 is the most massive known star in the universe and it is apparently dying with the newest observations about W26. Watching how this enormous star dies might help expose how dying superstars supply the cosmos with the components necessary for planetary creation, and then also even life.
W26 is counted among the hundreds of thousands of stars that make up the neighboring superstar constellation which is known by the name Westerlund 1. That is the biggest star congregation inside the Milky Way. It is located at just about 16,000 light-years away from Earth This means that basically Westerlund 1 is just a stepping stone away in cosmic terms. It is a wonderful equivalent for more distant, far-away gigantic clusters of stars observed in adjoining galaxies.
While examining Westerlund 1, scientists made a surprising discovery. They noticed that all around W26 was a mammoth cloud of ionized hydrogen gas. This is basically hydrogen atoms stripped of their electrons. The gas appeared greenish in color and glowed in images that were taken of the star. This meant that largest star ever discovered is starting to rip itself apart.
In the written report which described their findings, which will be published in a upcoming issue of the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, the researchers stated that the nebula consisted of a circumstellar shell or ring, and also a triangular nebula, The latter glowing is really bright green in the images that have been taken and recorded.
Also the researchers stated that this was the first ionized nebula that was ever discovered to be around a rosy supergiant.
W26 itself would possibly be too cold to make the gas glow like it does, the astronomers have speculated. They say that the source of the ionizing particle emission may be either scorching blue stars that are located elsewhere in the star cluster, or possibly a much hotter yet fainter companion star to W26. The circumstance that the nebula is ionized should make it much easier to study such stars in the future because of it being ionized than if it were not.
Follow-up examinations and images that show the nebula with high-resolution, narrow band imaging may give astronomers an unparalleled look at how W26 and other prospective supernovas resupply the intergalactic medium with the enriched resources necessary for creating rocky planets like Earth, and possibly even giving rise to life itself in the universe out there.
So perhaps in billions of years from now, scientists will have maybe cataloged and even counted all of the stars in the universe. Of course many of them will have long since evolved from the core classification anyway by then and new ones will be found that have not yet been discovered. That is one thing that is known for sure. At that time, who knows what will have been considered the biggest historically as well either? That also is of course, unknown. All that that is known at this time is the biggest star in the universe is dying.
Written by: Kimberly Ruble