Sheffield University leads Hubble Space Telescope work

Published 18th March 2016 at 10:07am

Hubble Space Telescope

The worldwide team of scientists were led by researchers from the University of Sheffield. They used the NSAS/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, and images taken with the Wide Field Camera 3. The unprecedented ultraviolet spatial resolution of the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) successfully dissected the young star cluster in the ultraviolet for the first time.

The discovery of the star cluster named R136 is the largest sample of very massive stars identified to date. This has raised many new questions about the formation of massive stars.

R136 is only a few light-years across. It is located in the Tarantula Nebula, within the Large Magellanic Cloud about 170,000 light-years away. The young cluster hosts many extremely massive, hot and luminous stars whose energy is mostly radiated in the ultra violet. This is why the scientists probed the ultraviolet emission of the cluster.

The new study also revealed dozens of stars exceeding 50 solar masses.

The detected stars are also exceptionally bright. Together they outshine the Sun by a factor of 30million.

Professor Paul Crowther, from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Physics and Astronomy was lead author of the study. He said: “Once again, our work demonstrates that, despite being in orbit for over 25 years, there are some areas of science for which Hubble is still uniquely capable.

“The ability to distinguish ultraviolet light from such an exceptionally crowded region into its component parts, resolving the signatures of individual stars, was only made possible with the instruments aboard Hubble.

“Together with my colleagues, I would like to acknowledge the invaluable work done by astronauts during Hubble’s last servicing mission. They restored STIS and put their own lives at risk for the sake of future science.”

Despite the new discovery the current record holder R136a1 keepS its place. It is the most massive star known at over 250 solar masses.