Red Supergiant unveils information on how enormous stars die

A team of astronomers created a detailed 3D map, by tracing molecular emissions in the outflows around a red supergiant named VY Canis Majoris, located approximately 3840 light-years away from Earth, which is a first. The map unveils information regarding the mechanisms involved in the final stages of a giant dying star.

The above-mentioned team of Astronomers hails from the University of Arizona and are led by researchers Ambesh Singh and Lucy Ziurys, who traced the distributions and velocities of molecules as they swirled around VY Canis Majoris and mapped them to structures of ejected material that extend for billions of miles, using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA).

The disappearance of a star can take many forms.  It could go supernova.  It could turn into a black hole.  Or it could just fade away quietly. VY CMa is concerned with the last type. Researchers believe that when massive stars approach the final stages of their lifeline, they emit tons of mass, which sometimes causes the star to disappear from the naked eye. VY CMa, located in the Canis Majoris constellation, is not the first to go through these ejections.  Betelgeuse (the second brightest star in the Orion Constellation) famously went through a dimming period last year, then returned to its normal brightness. VY CMa is undergoing a similar process but ‘on steroids’ as per Zirys, a Regents Professor at the Arizona University Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and Steward Observatory.

Ziurys further explains, “Nobody has been able to make a complete image of this star”. Thus, her team was focused on understanding the process by which the star sheds mass as it was different from those of smaller stars entering their red giant phase at the end of their lives.  “With these observations, we can now put these on maps on the sky”, adds Ziurys. “Until now, only small portions of this enormous structure had been studied, but you can’t understand the mass loss and how these big stars die unless you look at the entire region. That’s why we wanted to create a complete image.”

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