The biggest star in the Milky Way is dying slowly, and astronomers are watching

Three-dimensional models of astronomical objects can be ridiculously complex. They can range from black holes that light does not even emit to the literal size of the universe and everything in between.

However, not all objects have received the attention needed to develop a complete model of it, but we can officially add another very complex model to our lists.

Astronomers at the University of Arizona have developed a model of VY Canis Majoris, a red hypergiant that is possibly the largest star in the Milky Way. And they will use that model to predict how it will die.

How red hypergigants die has been a topic of debate recently. Originally, astronomers thought that they simply exploded into a supernova, as so many other stars do.

Recent data, however, show a significant lack of supernovae compared to the numbers that can be expected if red hypergiants themselves explode that way.

The current theory now is that they are more likely to collapse into a black hole, which is much more difficult to observe directly than the supernovae originally proposed.

It is still unclear what the exact properties of the stars that would evolve into black holes are; and to find out, it would be beneficial to have a model.

Join the team from UA. They chose VY Canis Majoris as an excellent stand-in for the kind of red hypergiants they were interested in learning more about.

The star itself is massive, ranging from 10 AU to 15 AU (astronomical units) in size. And it is only 3009 light-years from Earth as it is. This makes VY Canis Majoris, located in the southern constellation Canis Major, fascinating for observers.

Its large size and proximity to our solar system make it an excellent observation candidate. With good observational data, astronomers can see the amazing complexity of what the star’s surface actually looks like.

One of the basic processes in a star’s death is mass loss. This usually happens when gas and dust are evenly blown out of the star’s photosphere. On VY Canis Majoris, however, there are massive features similar to the Earth’s coronal arches, but a billion times more massive.

UA researchers spent time at ALMA collecting radio signals from the material being blown up into space as part of these eruptions.

This material, including sulfur dioxide, silicon dioxide and sodium chloride, would allow them to detect the speed at which it moves, rather than just the static presence of other ejecta, such as dust.

To do so, they had to adjust all 48 ALMA dishes and collect over a terabyte of data to get the right information.

Processing all the data collected can be quite challenging, and they are still working on some of it. Nevertheless, they had so far enough to present their findings to the American Astronomical Society in mid-June.

When they have even more data, they will be able to describe an even better model of what one of the largest stars in the galaxy looks like.

And one day, far in the future, that model of what will happen to a red hypergigant can only get a chance to be tested when VY Canis Majoris finally, officially, dies.

This article was originally published by Universe Today. Read the original article.