When looking to the heavens, many people simply stare and wonder at the mysteries held within deep space. Across the night sky, countless stars illuminate the dark and cause astronomers and normal stargazers alike to feel astonishment at the vast expanse before them. However, certain offerings from the deep depths of the universe hold more intrigue than others. In the case of stars, VY Canis Majoris stands astride the Canis Major constellation as a goliath with few rivals in size and interesting characteristics. If you can't help but look skyward, read on to learn more this testament to celestial magnificence and scale.
10 Fascinating Facts About VY Canis Majoris
VY Canis Majoris isn't Just a Giant…
While giant stars present a size representation that baffles even the most seasoned fans of deep astronomy, VY Canis Majoris takes the size concept a step farther by moving into the hypergiant category. For a star to be listed in this designation, their diameter must measure to be at least 3,600 times larger than the diameter of the Sun. Hypergiants, like VY Canis Majoris are the most luminous stars in the galaxy, with only 10 currently placed in the Milky Way galaxy.
In Fact, No Other Star Compares
However, none of the nine other hypergiants even holds a candle to sheer size and scale associated with VY Canis Majoris. At over 1,540 times the size of the Sun, VY Canis Majoris is the largest known star (LINK 2) viewed by earthbound scientists and astronomers. The next largest star, VV Cephei A, lays claim to a solar radii of 1050, easily falling behind the 1420 solar radii measurement of VY Canis Majoris and cementing its status as the most massive of all known stars.
VY Canis Majoris is So Bright it is Consuming Itself
When discussing luminosity, or how bright VY Canis Majoris is, Professor Roberta M Humphreys lists the star's spectral luminosity at 5.6 x 10^5 . While this number might not mean much to you at first glance, the realization that VY Canis Majoris is so bright that it is consuming itself will drive home the point. As the star burns brighter and brighter, it consumes its own mass to continue spreading light and radiation to the far reaches of the galaxy.
This Star Releases an Astounding Amount of Energy
The spread of all of this light and radiation releases quite a bit of energy. In fact, this understatement does nothing to explain how impressive the energy expenditure of VY Canis Majoris truly is. In just six seconds, this star releases more energy than the cumulative output of the Sun in an entire year. It is for this very reason that we can see light coming from this star when it resides nearly 5,000 light years from Earth.
For a Star, VY Canis Majoris is Rather Cold
Saying that a star, which is essentially a giant ball of burning gas, is cold seems like an oxymoron. However, when looking at VY Canis Majoris and other stars, this hypergiant lets off far less heat that those around it. Referring back to Professor Roberta Humphreys, here calculations put VY Canis Majoris' temperature at 3,500 degrees Kelvin. At the top of the scale, Eta Carinae clocks in between 36,000 and 40,000 degrees Kelvin. With many other stars, including small, normal, and even others in the hypergiant range, standing between these two, it is safe to say that VY Canis Majoris isn't the coldest star, but it definitely is pretty cool in comparison to its contemporaries.
This Star is on Its Deathbed
With such energy and power, VY Canis Majoris is a star full of life, right? Not exactly. With the energy release covered earlier, this star has actually released over half its mass already. This means that the star could explode, detonating its core and going supernova, causing chaos and destruction for every celestial body unfortunate enough to be caught in the blast radius.
Going Supernova Just Isn't Enough for VY Canis Majoris
While going supernova is perhaps the most destructive process in the known universe, VY Canis Majoris doesn't do anything without going all out. According to some scientists, this star might transcend any supernova rating and go into what is known as a hypernova. Under this occurrence, VY Canis Majoris would detonate with a force greater than 100 supernovaes, releasing more energy in seconds than what the Sun could possibly release during its entire lifetime.
With Such an Event, a Black Hole is a Real Possibility
Of course, stars that are so large don't just go out with a bang, so to speak. Many hypergiants serve as the basis of blackholes. In the case of VY Canis Majoris, the massive core of this star will collapse in on itself, creating a neutron-fueled black hole. As a black hole, this former star will create a gravitational field so strong that even light can't escape (LINK 10).
VY Canis Majoris' Demise Could Lead to Even More Destruction
If a hypernova/black hole combo where even light can't escape isn't enough, VY Canis Majoris' seemingly imminent downfall has a few more perils. As the supernova transitions into a black hole, the rapid cooling of the core creates gamma rays that wreak havoc on nearby space. Thankfully, the Earth's great distance from the star keeps it safe, however, those is a more local vicinity might not far so well. As the most powerful form of radiation, gamma rays can kill most life forms with limited exposure, thus creating a major problem for any other life forms living near VY Canis Majoris.
But the Most Amazing Fact is Yet to Come
While the raw power and size of VY Canis Majoris is most astounding, it simply serves as the basis for an amazing revelation. Combining the fact that the universe could have a septillion (or more) stars with the calculations from Professor Roberta Humphreys leads to one conclusion – while VY Canis Majoris is the largest star we currently know about, it is far from the top of the scale. Countless other giants are simply waiting in the various wings of the universe, ready to take their place as the new largest known star.
Regardless of your knowledge surrounding astronomy, taking a closer look at some astounding facts related to VY Canis Majoris unveils quite a few interesting discoveries. As the largest known star, this fount of energy and light dominates the celestial arena when compared to other hypergiants. However, more, and larger, discoveries await as humanity delves deeper into the depths of space.