VY Canis Majoris–The Largest Known Star


Of all known stars, the VY Canis Majoris is the largest. This red Hypergiant star, found in the constellation Canis Major, is estimated to have a radius at least 1,800 that of the Sun’s. In astronomy-speak we use the term 1,800 solar radii to refer to this particular size. Although not the most luminous among all known stars, it still ranks among the top 50.

Hypergiants are the most massive and luminous of stars. As such, they emit energy at a very fast rate. Thus, hypergiants only last for a few million years. Compare that to the Sun and similar stars that can keep on burning up to 10 billion years.

VY Canis Majoris a.k.a. VY CMa is about 4,900 light years from the Earth. This value, however, is just a rough estimate because it is too far for parallax to be used. Parallax is the most common method for measuring star distances. It is actually a special kind of triangulation method, i.e., similar to the one employed by engineers that make use of angles and a fixed baseline.

Some stars exist in pairs. These are called binary star systems. There are also multiple star systems. VY CMa, however, burns as a single star.

Relative sizes of bodies in our universe–with VY Canis Majoris the largest known star

As of January 2009, we now know about some other really big stars. One is called Eta Carinae. It has a size about 800 times that of our Sun, a mass about 100 times that of our Sun, and is about 4,000,000 times brighter than our Sun. And, yet, we do not think it is the biggest! Recent observations of a star called VY Canus Majoris show that it has a size between 600 and 2100 times the size of our Sun! However, this star is only about 500,000 times brighter than our Sun and 30 or so times more massive than our Sun. So how can it be so big? It is in a stage of its lifecycle called a red hypergiant, and while it is very big, it is rather cool in temperature compared to our Sun.

2 comments

  1. But in 2012, improved measurement techniques by the Very Large Telescope in Chile now place VY Canis Majoris’ distance at 3,900 light-years, luminosity at 270,000 × Sun, weight at 17 × Sun, and size at 1,420 × Sun, thereby pushing its ranking to #7. Meanwhile, a star named NML Cygni was at the size 1,650 × Sun, much larger than VY Canis Majoris.

    In 2010, improved measurements by the Hubble Space Telescope now place Eta Carinae’s size at 100 × Sun, but a bigger weight estimate at 120 × Sun, and more brighter estimate (now 5,000,000 times more luminous than the Sun). However, a star named R136a1 was more heavier (265 × Sun) and brighter (8,700,000 times more luminous than the Sun) though it is smaller in size (35.4 × Sun).

    This article must be updated.

    • Hi Johndric, Yes you’re quite correct. However going on temparature of these enormous stars and the theory that the hotter a star is the smaller it is – Eta Carinae, though luminous is I understand very hot (thought to be 25,000 degrees Kelvin) whereas VY Canis Majoris is thought to be a far cooler supergiant star at just over 3000 degrees Kelvin?

Feel free to leave a reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.