Runaway Star Flees Birthplace at Breakneck Speed
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Posted 11 May 2010 - 07:20 PM
A massive runaway star has been spotted by the Hubble Space Telescope racing away from the its home stellar nursery after being kicked out by some of its much heftier stellar siblings.
The homeless star is on the outer fringes of 30 Doradus Nebula – commonly known as the Tarantula Nebula – a teeming stellar breeding ground in the Milky Way's nearby galactic neighbor, the Large Magellanic Cloud.
The star, which is about 90 times as massive as our own sun, is racing through space at a speed of about 250,000 mph (400,000 kph), a speed that would get you to the moon and back in about two hours.
Tantalizing clues from three observatories, including the Hubble Space Telescope's newly installed Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS), along with some old-fashioned detective work suggest that the star may have travelled about 375 light-years from its suspected home – a giant star cluster called R136. (One light-year is the distance that light can travel in one year, about 6 trillion miles or 10 trillion km.)
The finding is yet more evidence that the most massive stars in the local universe can be found in the Tarantula Nebula, making it a unique laboratory for studying heavyweight stars. R136 is nestled inside the Tarantula Nebula, which is located 170,000 light-years from Earth and contains several stars topping 100 solar masses each.
The new observations offer insights into how massive star clusters behave.
"These results are of great interest because such dynamical processes in very dense, massive clusters have been predicted theoretically for some time, but this is the first direct observation of the process in such a region," said Nolan Walborn of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md., and a member of the COS team that observed the misfit star.
"Less massive runaway stars from the much smaller Orion Nebula Cluster were first found over half a century ago, but this is the first potential confirmation of more recent predictions applying to the most massive young clusters," Walborn said.
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