Distant nebula shows massive stars may be more common than previously thought

Astronomers have discovered a wealth of massive stars that could change their perception of how common the large formations are.
By Joseph Scalise | Jan 07, 2018
A star-forming region known as the Tarantula Nebula has many more massive stars than previous estimates guessed, a finding that could change the way astronomers think about large star formation.

Stars are considered "massive" when they have roughly ten times the mass of our Sun. The Tarantula Nebula -- which sits 180,000 light years from Earth -- contains about a thousand of the normally rare formations. The region is also home to the most massive and fastest-spinning stars on record, and it is of particular interest to scientists because it appears similar to the star formation events that happened in the early universe.

"There's no place comparable to that in our own Milky Way," said lead author Fabian Schneider, an astrophysicist at the University of Oxford, according to NPR. "This whole region is just full of these extremes."

The team in the study analyzed 247 stars from the nebula that were over 15 times the mass of the sun. In that group, researchers found more gigantic stars than previous estimates guessed were there. The data also revealed that there were roughly 30 percent more stars that ranged from 30 to 200 times the mass of the sun.

That discovery was so shocking that the team did not believe the initial results.

"We did a lot of research trying to figure out first, 'Ok, what did we do wrong?'" explained Schneider, in a statement. "In the end, we sort of turned around every stone that we could think of, but couldn't find what was going wrong, and had to conclude then that it's probably star formation itself that has produced so many massive stars."

This abundance of large stars is important because such bodies can explode at the end of their life and form unique objects like black holes and neutron stars. Further study of the formations could help scientists get a better idea of the universe and lead to more accurate models of both the formation and evolution of different galaxies.

This new research is reported in the journal Science.


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