The Power of 3.2 Million Suns

Jul 15, 2008 3:30pm

Yes, yes, the economy is struggling and the price of gas is staggering, but it’s still nice to know about the Peony nebula.  The Spitzer Space Telescope, a cousin of the Hubble that examines mostly infrared light, has spotted a star there that may just be the brightest in our galaxy.  More likely, it’s number two, after a star called Eta Carina — but it’s bright enough for government work, shining with 3.2 million times the light of our sun.  It is 150 to 200 times as massive.  It’s circled in the image below. Why, if it’s so bright, has nobody noticed it in the 400 years since Galileo turned his first telescope on the night sky?  Because it’s close to the core of the Milky Way, and the core is a remarkably dusty place.  It never stood out until it was examined in the infrared.  The research was led by Lidia Oskinova of Potsdam University in Germany, who says, for all we know, there may be brighter stars yet.  The business of star comparison, under the circumstances, is imprecise. She adds that the Peony nebula star may be near the end of its life span — and when it gets there, the end will be violent. "When this star blows up, it will evaporate any planets orbiting stars in the vicinity," she’s quoted as saying. Don’t you hate it when that happens?

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