Giant Aging Star Has Weight Loss Secret

First Posted: Nov 30, 2015 09:23 AM EST

ESO Astronomers have identified a massive aging star, VY Canis Majoris, which is releasing great amounts of dust and gases as it approaches the end of its life.

"Massive stars live short lives. When they near their final days, they lose a lot of mass," Peter Scicluna, lead author of the study from the Academia Sinica Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics in Taiwan, said in a news release.

The astronomers made the discovery using the SPHERE  instrument on ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT), which capture the image of VY Canis Majoris while it was in motion. VY Canis Majoris is a red hypergiant star located in the constellation Canis Major and it is one of the largest and most luminous stars in the Milky Way. This giant star is about 30 to 40 times the mass of the sun and it is 300,000 times brighter.

"In the past, we could only theorize about how this happened. But now, with the new SPHERE data, we have found large grains of dust around this hypergiant," Scicluna said. "These are big enough to be pushed away by the star's intense radiation pressure, which explains the star's rapid mass loss."

At the moment, VY Canis Majoris is expected to pass around Jupiter's orbit as it enters the last stages of its life. The SPHERE revealed that VY Canis Majoris was lighting up clouds of materials that surrounds it. The dusts particles that were released from VY Canis Majoris are 50 times bigger than the normal than the normal dust that is found in interstellar space. Each year, VY Canis Majoris expels dust and gas that amounts to 30 times the mass of the earth, according to the researchers. These gases and dusts eventually contribute to the formation of other stars and possibly planets as well. 

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