Astronomers Discover Ionized Nebula around Largest Star in Known Universe

An international group of astronomers has used ESO’s Very Large Telescope at Paranal Observatory in Chile to discover and observe an ionized nebula surrounding the red supergiant star W26.

W26 is located in the southern constellation of Ara about 16,000 light years from Earth. The star belongs to the most massive star cluster in our galaxy – Westerlund 1. The cluster is home to several hundred of thousand stars, and is the closest analogue to some of the truly massive star clusters seen in distant galaxies.

The red supergiant W26 is probably the largest star ever discovered, with a radius 1,500 times larger than the Sun and is also one of the most luminous red supergiants known.

When the astronomers studied the images of Westerlund 1 they spotted something unique. They discovered a huge cloud of glowing hydrogen gas around W26. Such clouds are ionized, meaning that the electrons have been stripped away from the atoms of hydrogen gas. The discovery is described in a paper appearing in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (arXiv.org).

Full Article

Image credit: ESO / VPHAS+ Survey / N. Wright.


Posted 12 months ago with 461 notes
Tagged:Astronomyastrophysicsspaceionized nebulanebulaW26Westerlund 1sciencestars

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