The Milky Way's third-closest galactic neighbour, the Large Magellanic Cloud, has surprised astronomers with an overabundant population of supersized stars approximately 15 to 200 times bigger than our own Sun.
Massive stars are seen as a rarity in cosmos but the latest observation suggests these objects could be more abundant than previously thought, something that could give us new insights into the universe as a whole and its evolution.
Astronomers from the University of Oxford spotted the stellar heavyweights in a notorious but gigantic star-forming region of Large Magellanic Cloud dubbed 30 Doradus or the Tarantula nebula.
In this zone, about 800 stars and their luminosity were observed with the European Space Observatory's Very Large Telescope (VLT).
The study, published in the journal Science, revealed the specifics of about 450 of the stars. Some 250 of the were super-massive, holding more than 15 times the mass of our Sun. "We were astonished when we realised that 30 Doradus has formed many more massive stars than expected," said lead author Fabian Schneider.
The numbers also indicated a massive discrepancy over previous estimates, with 32% more stars weighing above 30 solar masses and 73% more going beyond 60 solar masses. The team even found evidence of stars 150 times more massive than the Sun, which was previously believed impossible by many astronomers.
"Until recently, the existence of stars up to 200 solar masses was highly disputed, and the study shows that a maximum birth mass of stars of 200-300 solar masses appears likely," study co-author Hugues Sana said in a statement.
Though further studies have to be conducted to dig deep into the stellar heavyweights and their population, the authors of the study believe there is a possibility that the universe may have contained more of these stars than we think. If this were to be true, astronomers could learn a lot about the universe and how it evolved.
The more massive a star, the bigger is the impact on its surroundings. It can explode in spectacular supernovae at the end of its life, forming some of the most exotic cosmic objects like neutron stars and black holes.
"Our results have far-reaching consequences for the understanding of our cosmos: there might be 70% more supernovae, a tripling of the chemical yields and towards four times the ionising radiation from massive star populations," Schneider said while detailing the possibilities of the discovery.
"Also, the formation rate of black holes might be increased by 180%, directly translating into a corresponding increase of binary black hole mergers that have recently been detected via their gravitational wave signals."