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Stellar finding may outshine all others

9:51am, January 21, 2004

Astronomers have found what may be the heaviest, biggest, and brightest star ever observed. The star, known as LBV 1806-20, may weigh more than 150 times as much as the sun, span 200 times its width, and shine up to 40 million times as brightly.

Residing 45,000 light-years from Earth and blocked by dust, the star appears dim in visible light. But at the infrared wavelengths studied by Stephen S. Eikenberry of the University of Florida in Gainesville and his colleagues, about 10 percent of the star's radiation penetrates the dust. Eikenberry reported the team's finding on Jan. 6 in Atlanta at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

The researchers' sharp infrared images and spectra have made determinations of the star's distance, temperature, and infrared emissions that are more precise than ever before. These data, in turn, led to new estimates of LBV 1806-20's properties.

Donald F. Figer of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore cautions that

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