Largest star in the Milky Way is slowly dying

(ORDO NEWS) — 3D models of astronomical objects can be ridiculously complex. They can range from black holes where no light even escapes, to the literal size of the universe and everything in between.

Not every object gets the attention it needs to complete its model, however we can officially add another very complex model to our list.

Astronomers at the University of Arizona have developed a model for VY Canis Majoris, a red hypergiant that is quite possibly the largest star in the Milky Way. And they are going to use this model to predict how she will die.

The question of how red hypergiants die has been the subject of some controversy lately. Initially, astronomers believed that they simply explode in a supernova, like many other stars.

However, recent evidence suggests a significant absence of supernovae compared to what would be expected if red hypergiants themselves exploded in this way.

There is currently a theory that they are likely to collapse into a black hole, which is much more difficult to observe directly than the originally thought supernovae.

It remains unclear what exactly are the characteristics of stars that evolve into black holes; and to figure it out it would be helpful to have a model.

In this case, the team from UA. They chose VY Canis Majoris as an excellent example of a type of red hypergiant they wanted to learn more about.

The star itself is massive, ranging in size from 10 AU to 15 AU (astronomical units). At the same time, it is only 3,009 light years away from Earth. This makes VY Canis Majoris, located in the southern constellation Canis Major, interesting for observers.

Its size and proximity to our solar system make it an excellent candidate for observations. With good observational data, astronomers will be able to see the breathtaking complexity of what a star’s surface really looks like.

One of the fundamental processes in the death of a star is the loss of mass. This usually happens when gas and dust are evenly blown out of the star’s photosphere. However, VY Canis Majoris has massive features similar to Earth’s coronal arcs, but a billion times more massive.

The UA researchers used the time on ALMA to collect radio signals from the material that is ejected into space during these eruptions.

This material, including sulfur dioxide, silicon dioxide and sodium chloride, will allow them to determine the speed at which it is moving, and not just the static presence of other emissions such as dust.

To do this, they had to align all 48 ALMA dishes and collect over a terabyte of data to get the correct information.

Handling all this data can be quite a challenge and they are still working on some of it. However, for now, they have enough data to present their results to the American Astronomical Society in mid-June.

When they have even more data, they will be able to describe an even better model of what one of the largest stars in the galaxy looks like.

And sometime, far in the future, this model of what will happen to a red hypergiant may have a chance to be tested when VY Canis Majoris finally officially dies.


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