WEDNESDAY: The Universe's Big Gun

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SNAPPING AWAY with its new Near-Infrared Camera, the Hubble Space Telescope may have found the biggest star in the universe just 25,000 light years away. How big is it?

  • At the beginning of its life, the "Pistol Star" (so named for the peculiar shape of its surrounding nebula) was 200 times more massive than the sun.

  • Place it at the center of our solar system, and its girth sporting a radius somewhere between 93 and 139.5 million miles would engulf not only the Earth's orbit but probably Mars as well. Bye bye Pathfinder.

  • Its nebula is so vast that scientists measure it in light years, estimating its diameter at four light years, the distance from the sun to Alpha Centauri.

    Now in middle age, "Pistol Star" is still generating 10 million times more energy than our sun, radiating more in six seconds than the sun does in a year. UCLA scientists, who are charged with interpreting the pictures, say that guarantees the Pistol Star a brilliant death a few million years from now, in a massive supernova. More like a Rock Star, perhaps.

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