The Biggest Loser

By Parke Kunkle

In July 2010, British astronomers announced the measurement of the most massive star yet found, weighing in at about 265 times the mass of the Sun.

How such massive stars form is a puzzle, since they develop extremely strong winds that quickly carry away a lot of the star’s mass.

The new record holder, R136a1 in the Large Magellanic Cloud, has probably lost about 55 equivalent Suns since it was born.

That’s about 25 x 1023 pounds, clearly making it the biggest loser! (Our Sun sheds mass in a wind, as well, although at a much smaller rate.) Scientists are excited about these very massive stars, which are born and die in ways that challenge our understanding of the basic processes of stellar evolution. For an artist’s conception of how R136a1 compares to our Sun, check out http://bit.ly/cEHnXY.

For a YouTube video comparing the size of stars, try http://bit.ly/cfu2go

Mind-blowing?
Feel small?

Me too but it reminds me that part of being human is to feel awed and to ask questions and to seek rational answers and true understanding. We want to explore the world around us.

How are the oceans critical to life?
How can we help slow global warming?
Where did our sun come from?
What is going to happen to it?
How did our galaxy form?
How does the universe evolve?
Where did we come from?

Horace Mann, a famous educator, said: “The purpose of education is to stretch your mind so that it never returns to its original shape.”

At MCTC you have the opportunity to stretch your mind, to ask, to explore, to investigate.

Use that opportunity or you might be the biggest loser.