Weighing massive stars in nearby galaxy reveals excess of heavyweights

22 January 2018

An international team of astronomers, including many from the UK, has revealed an ‘astonishing’ overabundance of massive stars in a neighbouring galaxy.

The discovery, made in the gigantic star-forming region 30 Doradus in the Large Magellanic Cloud galaxy, has ‘far-reaching’ consequences for our understanding of how stars transformed the pristine Universe into the one we live in today.

The results are published in the journal Science and this work has had substantial UK involvement with over a third of the authors being based in the UK at 8 different UK institutes.

As part of the VLT-FLAMES Tarantula Survey (VFTS), the team used ESO’s Very Large Telescope to observe nearly 1,000 massive stars in 30 Doradus, a gigantic stellar nursery also known as the Tarantula nebula. The team used detailed analyses of about 250 stars with masses between 15 and 200 times the mass of our Sun to determine the distribution of massive stars born in 30 Doradus – the so-called initial mass function (IMF).

Lead author Dr Fabian Schneider, a Hintze Research Fellow in the University of Oxford’s Department of Physics, said: ‘We were astonished when we realised that 30 Doradus has formed many more massive stars than expected.’

Read the full article here.

Image: The Tarantula Nebula in the Large Magellanic Cloud.
(Credit: NASA, ESA, ESO, D. Lennon (ESA/STScI), and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA))