Biggest star known is in death throes


The biggest known star in the cosmos is in its death throes and will eventually explode, astronomers said Wednesday.

Using a telescope at the European Southern Observatory in Chile, the astronomers said they had spotted telltale signs in a star called W26.

Located about 16,000 light-years away in the constellation of Ara, the star has a diameter 3,000 times that of the sun.

W26, first observed in 1998, is a red supergiant, a kind of star that is as big as it is short-lived. Such stars typically live less than a few million years before they exhaust their nuclear fuel, collapse and explode as supernovas.

W26 is becoming unstable and shedding its outer layers, a key step in the death process, according to the paper, published in the British journal Monthly Notices of Britain’s Royal Astronomical Society.

The observations suggest “W26 is coming towards the end of its life and will eventually explode as a supernova.”

W26 is surrounded by a nebula, of glowing hydrogen gas whose atoms have been stripped of their electrons. A similar cloud was found around the remnant of a star that became a supernova in 1987.