Alone In Space, A Giant Star Shines Brightly

It is unusual, but not impossible, for a super-bright, giant star to form all alone in the darkness of the space between stars. Such large and massive, highly luminous stars, are usually seen inhabiting the crowded centers of star clusters. However, in October 2013, astronomers announced that one of the most brilliant and brightest of all known stars dances alone by itself in the darkness.

This especially large star, named WR 102ka dwells near the center of our Milky Way Galaxy, and it is 100 times larger than our Sun. Ever since astronomers first started to spot enormous stars like this one, circling around near the Galactic core, they’ve wondered about their origins. A team of scientists from the University of Potsdam in Germany, now think they have an answer to this mystery. Their paper, to be published in an upcoming issue of the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, is titled: One of the most massive stars in the Galaxy may have formed in isolation”. The paper’s lead author is Dr. Lida M. Oskinova. The authors write:

“Very massive stars, 100 times heavier than the Sun, are rare. It is not yet known whether such stars can form in isolation or only in star clusters. The answer to this question is of fundamental importance. The central region of our Galaxy is ideal for investigating very massive stars and clusters located in the same environment… Our observations confirm that WR 102ka is one of the most massive stars in the Galaxy and reveal that this star is not associated with a star cluster. We suggest that WR 102ka has been born in relative isolation, outside of any massive star cluster.”

WR 102ka, alternatively called the Peony Nebula Star, is a blazing, fiery, roiling ball of gas that shines with the brilliant light of 3.2 million Suns. Although the brightest known star is Eta Carinae--which produces the equivalent of 4.7 million Suns worth of light–the Peony Nebula Star is the second runner-up. In fact, some astronomers think that it is possible that WR 102ka is really even brighter than Eta Carinae, due to the uncertainties in these estimates.

If WR 102ka is really so bright, why doesn’t it stand out more in the crowd? The answer lies in one word: dust! The Peony Nebula Star is located in a very dusty region and, in fact, there could be other super-bright stars still hidden deep in the dust. NASA’s infrared eye in the sky, the Spitzer Space Telescope (SST) was able to pierce the veil of obscuring dust and measure WR 102ka’s true brilliance. Likewise, infrared data obtained from the European Southern Observatory’s New Technology Telescope in Chile were of the utmost importance in calculating WR 102ka’s luminosity.

Stars are born when an extremely heavy, dense globule embedded within a giant, cold, dark molecular cloud collapses under the weight of its own gravity. In the secret depths of these murky and mysterious clouds, composed of gas and dust, thin and delicate threads of material slowly merge together and grow for hundreds of thousands of years. Then, squeezed together by the hug of gravity, hydrogen atoms dwelling within these dense globules rapidly, suddenly fuse! This fusion lights a brilliant fire that will rage for as long as the new, shining neonatal star lives–for that is the way a baby star is born! 바카라사이트

All stars, both large and small, are gigantic, brilliant, blazing balls of roiling gas. The billions upon billions of stars that inhabit our Universe are mainly composed of hydrogen–the lightest of all atomic elements, as well as the most abundant. Stars perform a wondrous act of “cosmic cookery” when they transform hydrogen in their hot nuclear-fusing hearts into progressively heavier atomic elements. The only elements born in the Big Bang birth of our Universe almost 14 billion years ago were hydrogen, helium, and small quantities of lithium.

All the rest of the atomic elements, listed in the familiar Period Table, were cooked up deep in the cores of stars, their raging, fiery, searing-hot hearts progressively fusing the nuclei of atoms into heavier and heavier elements.

The myriad of fiery stars, that dwell in our Cosmos, keep themselves bouncy by producing energy as a result of the process of nuclear fusion, that occurs deep in their searing-hot cores. The stars maintain a precious and delicate equilibrium between their immense, crushing gravity–which pulls everything inward–and their enormous energy production, which creates pressure, that pushes everything outward and away from the star. The immense production of energy is the result of stellar nucleosynthesis–that marvelous “cosmic cookery” that continually fuses lighter elements into increasingly heavier ones. This delicate, precious balance is kept up throughout the entire main-sequence (hydrogen-burning) “life” of the star. In the end, gravity wins the war. When the aging star, at long last, runs out of nuclear fuel, its core collapses, and it “dies”. Relatively small stars, like our own Sun, perish with relative peace and great beauty, puffing their multicolored outer gaseous layers gently into the space between stars. The larger stars, however, “die” in the brutal, violent rage of a supernova explosion, which blasts the doomed star to shreds. The size of the star is what determines its ultimate fate.


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