A research team at Chile's Very Large Telescope observatory has discovered more than a thousand massive stars.
The massive stars are 200 to 300 times larger than the Earth's Sun, a size range that astronomers previously considered to be impossible. The supergiant stars are found along the Tarantula Nebula or 30 Doradus, a star-forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud galaxy where the largest and fastest stars have been observed. Its intense starburst activity has also been postulated to resemble that of the early Universe.
Massive stars have been known to exist but not in excessive numbers. They were believed to be rare as such stars lived shorter than their smaller counterparts.
In contrast, the Sun is estimated to be around 4.6 billion years old. It is expected to continue existing for another five billion years while supergiant stars have been theorized to last only for a few million.
Excessive Population Of Supergiant Stars Changes Astrophysics
The recently discovered abundance of massive stars does not only disprove theories about their nature. In a study published on Jan. 5, the team reports that the excessive population of such heavenly bodies has far-reaching implications in the history of the Universe itself.
Dramatic events and unique formations in the Universe, such as black holes, are produced by these stars. For instance, NASA explains that the death of one supergiant star alone can result in a violent explosion that could outshine an entire galaxy.
When a star loses its capacity to support its own mass, its core begins to collapse. Within seconds, the core shrinks in size from being 5,000 miles across to a dozen, and its temperature jumps to a hundred billion degrees or more.
The outer layers initially collapse along with the core but they are eventually thrown outward as the star releases an unimaginable amount of energy, causing an explosion called a supernova. According to NASA, this celestial event only happens once in a several hundred years, with up to 50 supernovae discovered in other galaxies each year.
More Massive Stars May Mean More Supernovae And Black Holes
Such calculations, however, could be wrong. The new study's lead author and astrophysicist Fabian Schneider believes that the excess of massive stars in the Universe suggests more frequent explosions. Specifically, he estimates that supernovae might occur 70 percent more often than previously theorized.
Black holes, which are also formed when a massive star dies, may also be bigger in size than what astronomers thought. Schneider postulates that black holes could actually be 180 percent larger than existing models.
While the study was limited to only one stellar nursery, the implications of its results reach throughout the entire cosmos. In a separate report, Schneider describes their discovery at 30 Doradus as a "stepping stone to the distant universe."