Rapid changes seen in 'hypergiant' star

Dec. 11, 2012 at 4:05 PM
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UCCLE, Belgium, Dec. 11 (UPI) -- European researchers say a 30-year study of an extraordinary cosmic "hypergiant" has revealed clues to the evolution of the universe's most massive stars.

Researchers from six European countries, including Belgian astronomers, have observed the hypergiant star HR 8752 for 30 years while it traversed a "Yellow Evolutionary Void," an extremely rare stage of development that saw the star's temperature increase by more than 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

The "Void" is a short stage in the lives of the universe's most massive stars during which they become very unstable with rapid changes in its temperature and brightness, a release from the Royal Observatory of Belgium said Tuesday.

Hypergiants lose tremendous mass when in this stage, sometimes as much as the mass of the Sun in just a year, astronomers said.

"HR 8752 had to struggle through the Void which has changed the physical properties of its atmosphere," Belgian astronomer Alex Lobel said.

The discovery is an important step in explaining the existence of these extreme stars that can exhibit dramatic changes over human timescales, researchers said.

The eventual fate of HR 8752 is unknown although there are strong hints these massive hypergiants often perish in powerful supernova explosions, they said.

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