The Milky Way’s largest star, VY Canis Majoris, may die in an unknown process

Ambesh Singh and Lucy Ziurys, two astronomy researchers at the University of Arizona, led a team of scientists that created one of the most detailed three-dimensional maps of molecules around a red supergiant — but not at all: the observed star was VY Canis Majoris (VYCa), perhaps the largest star in the Milky Way.

The information was collected from the observatory data Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA), and although they are still being analyzed, they have already drawn first conclusions (by the team dem American Astronomical Society) about how the giant star dies.

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Red supergiants are perhaps the largest stars in the universe by volume (but not by mass or luminosity). Two well-known examples of this type are Antares and Betelgeuse, but here we have another “player” of this team who is very close to us, because VY Canis Majoris is “only” 3,009 light years from Earth.

“Think of it like a Betelgeuse on steroids,” Ziurys said in a statement released by the University of Arizona. “It’s much larger and more massive, experiencing more violent massive eruptions on average every 200 years. »

In the past, red supergiants like VY Canis Majoris were thought to die like any other star: a supernova explosion. However, Ziurys and Singh argue that if we did, we would have to find many more remnants of these explosions in the sky — given those two factors alone, the numbers just don’t add up.

“Now we think they silently collapse into black holes, but we don’t know which ones end their lives that way or why and how it happens,” Zyuris justified the story’s production.

One of the main factors that indicate the death of a star is its mass loss. The problem is that VY Canis Majoris appears to have a different process than other stars: “You don’t see this homogeneous, symmetrical loss, but a series of convex cells exploding through the star’s photosphere, as if acting like giant revolver bullets, by throwing the mass in different directions,” explained Zyuris. “It’s very similar to the sun’s coronal mass ejections, but a billion times larger. »

VY Canis Majoris – possibly the largest star in the Milky Way – is exhibiting a different mass loss than other stars, leading to the theory that it may die in ways still unknown to science (Image: Rutherford Observatory Telescope/Reproduction)

Using data from ALMA, the team was able to identify some key elements in these massive ejections – mainly sulfur dioxide, silicon dioxide, phosphorus oxide and sodium chloride. This enabled them to get a picture of the entire alignment structure of the star’s molecules.

The study is not yet complete because, as with the VY Canis Majoris, the amount of data is huge. According to Singh, about a terabyte (1TB) of information has been processed by ALMA so far, and they are still receiving new data.

“Just calibrating and cleaning that data requires nearly 20,000 iterations, which takes a day or two. [de análise] for each molecule,” he commented.

However, with the complete material, there is a good chance that we will finally understand a stellar death process that differs from what we are used to, leading us to a better understanding of stellar evolution.

The research is funded by National Science Foundationand should lead to a series of papers Release later in 2022.

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