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Beyond Earthly Skies

Red Supergiant in Westerlund 1

26 Sep 2013, 10:00 UTC
Red Supergiant in Westerlund 1 Scott Cornett
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Westerlund 1 is the most massive starburst cluster known in the Milky Way galaxy. It contains more than 50 known massive O-type stars, Wolf-Rayet stars and red supergiants (RSGs) at various stages of post-main sequence evolution. Wright et al. (2013) acquired images that show the existence of an ionized circumstellar nebula surrounding the RSG W26 in Westerlund 1. W26 is one of the most luminous and largest RSGs known in the galaxy. It is estimated to have ~320,000 times the Sun’s luminosity and ~1500 times the Sun’s diameter. If placed in the centre of the Solar System, the visible surface of W26 will reach to the orbit of Jupiter and another 260 million kilometres further. The presence of a nebula around W26 suggests it is a highly evolved RSG with extensive mass-loss in its recent history.An artist’s impression of a RSG from the surface of hypothetical planet. Even though the planet is over a billion kilometres away, the RSG still spans a large breadth of the sky and the planet’s surface scorches under the intense heat. Credit: Scott Cornett.The ionized circumstellar nebula surrounding W26 consists of a detached circumstellar shell or ring surrounding the star and a triangular nebula located ...

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