Hubble Telescope Catches Superfast Runaway Star

A stellar speed demon racing away from its home may be a never before seen type of runaway star, astronomers have announced.

Dubbed 30 Dor 016, the massive star is whipping through space at a record-breaking 250,000 miles (400,000 kilometers) an hour. The fugitive already appears to have traveled 375 light-years from its birthplace: a star cluster called R136 deep in the Tarantula Nebula.

(Related: "Mystery Space Object May Be Ejected Black Hole.")

Astronomers caught the stellar runaway in Hubble Space Telescope data taken shortly after the last space shuttle servicing mission in May 2009. (See pictures taken by the upgraded Hubble.)

The team chose the star as a target to help calibrate the newly installed Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS), an instrument designed to look at the light signatures—or spectra—of very distant, faint objects.

After looking at the light coming from 30 Dor 016, the scientists "knew immediately that it was a massive star that had stellar winds blowing at breakneck speeds," said study co-author Danny Lennon, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland.

"Given that the mass of the star is proportional to the velocity of the material being expelled, we knew right away that its wind was the fastest ever seen."

Such powerful wind means that the star is incredibly massive: Lennon and colleagues calculate that the runaway is roughly 90 times the mass of our sun.


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