…because it is not Science Fiction without science, and it is not science without the “gosh-wow!”
Largest star discovered – All hail, UY Scuti.
The universe is such a big place that it is easy to get baffled by the measurements that astronomers make. The size of UY Scuti, possibly one of the largest stars we have observed to date, is certainly baffling.
Above: UY Scuti (Rutherford Observatory/CC).
Not surprisingly, UY Scuti is classified as a “hypergiant” star – which is the classification which comes after “supergiant” and regular “giant.” Its size may make it the biggest, but it is not the most massive star (where the “mass” in massive stands for the amount of matter in the star).
UY Scuti’s mass is probably slightly more than 30 times the mass of our Sun, which places it nowhere near the top of the most massive stars list. That honor is held by a star with the charming name of R136a1, which clocks in at 265 times as massive as the Sun, but only 30 times the radius of the sun. Mass and physical size don’t always correlate for stars, particularly the case for giant stars.
UY Scuti size comparison to the Sun. (Philip Park/CC).
So while UY Scuti is only around 30 times more massive than the sun, it has a radius somewhere in the region of 1,700 times larger than the radius of the sun. This star is one of a class of stars that varies in brightness because it varies in size, so this number is also likely to change over time. The margin of error on this measurement is about 192 solar radii. This uncertainty is why I used “possibly one of the largest stars” in my description of UY Scuti. If it is smaller by 192 solar radii, there are a few other candidates that would beat UY Scuti.
The approximate size of the star is about 750m miles, or nearly eight astronomical units, where one astronomical unit is the distance between the earth and the sun. This is large enough that it would extend past Jupiter.