Jonathan Amos, BBC News
The death throes of one of the biggest stars known to science have been spied by Europe’s Herschel space telescope. The observatory, launched in May, has subjected VY Canis Majoris, to a detailed spectroscopic analysis.
It has allowed Herschel to identify the different types of molecules and atoms that swirl away from the star which is 20–25 times as massive as our Sun. VY Canis Majoris is some 4,500 light-years from Earth and it could be seen to explode as a supernova at any time.
It is colossal. If VY Canis Majoris were sited at the centre of our Solar System, its surface would extend out towards the orbit of Saturn. The star, in the constellation Canis Major, has been recorded by astronomers for at least 200 years.
It is what is called a red hypergiant — a highly evolved object that is exhausting its nuclear fuel.
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