Record-breaking star is found

Astronomers have discovered the biggest and brightest known star in the heavens. The star, labelled LBV 1806-20, is between 150 and 200 times the size of the Sun and 40 million times brighter.

Telescope in ChileProfessor Stephen Eikenberry, of the University of Florida, observed the star using the historic 200-inch telescope on Mount Palomar, California.

Folllow-up studies were made using data collected by the Blanco 4-meter telescope, shown in the picture, at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory’s Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile.

The star lies 45,000 light-year away from Earth, towards the centre of the Milky Way in the constellation of Sagittarius. It could be up to seven times brighter than the previous record-breaking candidate, called the Pistol Star, which lies in the same constellation.

LBV 1806-20 got its label because it was identified as a “Luminous Blue Variable star” – a relatively rare, massive and short-lived star, estimated to be less than two million years old. The Sun, by contrast, is five billion years old, halfway through its life.

LBVs have “short and troubled lives,” says Professor Eikenberry, because “the more mass you have, the more nuclear fuel you have, the faster you burn it up. They start blowing themselves to bits.” He has submitted a paper on his discovery to the Astrophysical Journal.

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Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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