R136a1 may sound like a lame attempt to create a more secure webmail password, but it’s actually the star with the largest mass ever discovered. The British astronomers who found it said this week that though it’s currently 265 times more massive than our Sun, it may well have been as much as 320 times more massive when it was first born. That’s twice the mass of any star previously found.
To put things into context, the BBC notes, if it was placed where our Sun is, R136a1 would outshine the Sun by the same degree the Sun outshines our Moon: so literally a difference of night and day.
The newly found star is one of several identified by a team led by Professor Paul Crowther of Sheffield University. They took existing data from the Hubble Space Telescope and cross-referenced it with new data from the wonderfully named Very Large Telescope, which is owned by the European Southern Observatory but based in Chile.
As well as being larger and much hotter than our Sun, in some cases up to seven times as much, the stars differ in other ways. For instance, Professor Crowther notes that they would appear to have much rougher edges if seen by the naked eye, which is because of losing much more material to high-velocity winds in their atmospheres.
They also live for such short periods that there isn’t time for planets to form and begin orbiting around them — and even if they could, the stars are so large and close together that such planets would appear to be in permanent “daylight”.
(Picture credit: European Space Observatory)