Milky Way’s biggest star is slowly dying as astronomers watch

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

Not every object has been given the attention it needs to develop a complete model of it, but we can officially add another very complex model to our lists.

Astronomers at the University of Arizona have developed a VY model for Canis Major, 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 he will die.

How red hypergiants die has recently been the subject of some debate. Initially, astronomers thought they simply exploded and went supernova, as happens with many other stars.

However, more recent data show a significant absence of supernovae compared to the numbers that would be expected if the red hypergiants themselves exploded. explode like this.

Now there is a theory that they are more likely to collapse into a black hole, which is much more difficult to observe directly than the initially assumed supernovae.

It remains unclear what exactly are the characteristics of stars that would turn into black holes; and to find out, it would be beneficial to have a model.

Enter the team from UA. They chose VY Canis Major as an excellent replacement for a type of red hypergiant that they were interested in learning more about.

The star itself is massive, ranging from 10 AU to up to 15 a.u. (astronomical units) to size. And in its current form, it is only 3009 light years from Earth. This makes VY Canis Major, located in the southern constellation Canis Major, interesting for observers.

Its enormous size and proximity to our solar system make it an excellent candidate for observations. With good observational data, astronomers can see the breathtaking complexity of what the surface of a star actually looks like.

One of the fundamental processes of star death is mass loss. 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 at ALMA to collect radio signals from material ejected into space by these eruptions.

This material, including sulfur dioxide, silicon dioxide and sodium chloride, will allow them to determine the speed at which it is moving rather than just the static presence of other emissions such as dust.

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

Processing all the data collected can be quite a challenge and they are still working on some of it. However, they had enough to present their findings 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 the largest stars in the galaxy look like.

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


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