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Hubble Space Telescope Pinpoints 'Monster' Stars

This image from the Hubble Space Telescope shows the central region of the Tarantula Nebula in the Large Magellanic Cloud. The R136 star cluster — the blue stars in the lower right — contains massive stars, including nine newly-identified stars more than 100 times as massive as our sun. NASA, ESA, P Crowther (University of Sheffield) hide caption

toggle caption NASA, ESA, P Crowther (University of Sheffield)

This image from the Hubble Space Telescope shows the central region of the Tarantula Nebula in the Large Magellanic Cloud. The R136 star cluster — the blue stars in the lower right — contains massive stars, including nine newly-identified stars more than 100 times as massive as our sun.

NASA, ESA, P Crowther (University of Sheffield)

Scientists now know a little more about a young star cluster in the Tarantula Nebula, within the Large Magellanic Cloud, approximately 170,000 light-years from Earth.

Specifically, they've identified nine "monster stars" as the Hubble Space Telescope's press release puts it, more than 100 times the mass of our Sun.

The star cluster R136 is home to "many extremely massive, hot and luminous stars," the statement continues.

In order to tease apart the bright light from the closely-clustered stars, scientists combined images from a camera on the Hubble Space Telescope with data about ultraviolet light from an imaging spectograph on the telescope.

Scientists compared the ultraviolet imagery from a Hubble camera (on the left) with UV spectra from a Hubble spectrograph (pseudo-image on the right) to identify and study specific stars within the cluster. ESA/Hubble, NASA, K.A. Bostroem (STScI/UC Davis) hide caption

toggle caption ESA/Hubble, NASA, K.A. Bostroem (STScI/UC Davis)

They found the nine enormous stars, which together are brighter than the sun by a factor of 30 million to one.

But the largest star in R136, which was identified several years ago, still reigns supreme: it's more than 250 times as large as the sun, and is the most massive star ever detected.

More precise data about the stars in the cluster could help researchers explore the origins of extremely massive stars.

The Hubble took a striking image of the same star cluster back in 2009, noting the presence of the "diamond-like icy blue stars" that are the brightest and largest in the cluster.

At the time, the space agency also provided a peek into the stars' futures: "These hefty stars are destined to pop off, like a string of firecrackers, as supernovas in a few million years."

A 2009 image from the Hubble shows the same star cluster. Here's how the space agency described it then: "The brilliant stars are carving deep cavities in the surrounding material by unleashing a torrent of ultraviolet light, and hurricane-force stellar winds (streams of charged particles), which are etching away the enveloping hydrogen gas cloud in which the stars were born." NASA, ESA, and F. Paresce (INAF-IASF, Bologna, Italy), R. O'Connell (University of Virginia, Charlottesville), and the Wide Field Camera 3 Science Oversight Committee hide caption

toggle caption NASA, ESA, and F. Paresce (INAF-IASF, Bologna, Italy), R. O'Connell (University of Virginia, Charlottesville), and the Wide Field Camera 3 Science Oversight Committee

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