The Biggest Known Star in the Universe ~ Kwentology


Every day, scientists learn new facts about our solar system—and beyond. So fasten your seatbelts and get ready to explore the farthest reaches of the universe.

What is the biggest known star in the universe? Stars come in many sizes, from small dwarfs to supergiants. Our sun is an average-size star, 870,000 miles across and big enough that one million Earths could comfortably fit inside it. But that's nothing compared to the biggest known star in the universe. VY Canis Majoris, a red supergiant with a diameter of more than 1.7 billion miles, is roughly 2,100 times the size of the sun in radius and could swallow it 8 billion times over.

Image of Canis Majoris

As it nears the end of its life, Canis Majoris puts out so much radiation that parts of its outer layers are thrown off in large outbursts. These images, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, show such an eruption. Click the image to show the full size.

A Dying Star

Image of VY Canis Majoris Compared to our SUN

This diagram shows VY Canis Majoris compared with our tiny sun. Click the image to full size view.
Images from the Hubble Space Telescope reveal that VY Canis Majoris is about to burn up. That's not too surprising since supergiants, the most massive of stars, send out energy at a much higher rate than small stars. While our Sun will shine for about 10 billion years, supergiants last only a few million. When a supergiant finally runs out of fuel, it explodes, becoming a supernova.

Don't hold your breath waiting for VY Canis Majoris to blow up, though. Astronomers believe that probably won't happen for another 100,000 years or so. In human years that seems like a long time, but in astronomical years, it's a blink of an eye.

Factoid

  • If VY Canis Majoris took the sun's place in our solar system, its surface would extend out to Saturn's orbit.
  • VY Canis Majoris is also a hypergiant, a star that is both massive and bright. It is about 450,000 time brighter than our Sun.
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