Washington, July 16 : A new star discovered in the center of the Milky Way is a serious contender for the title of the brightest star in our galaxy.
Nicknamed the "Peony nebula star," the bright stellar bulb was revealed by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and other ground-based telescopes. It blazes with the light of an estimated 3.2 million suns.
The reigning "brightest star" champion is Eta Carina, with a whopping solar wattage of 4.7 million suns.
But according to astronomers, it's hard to pin down an exact brightness, or luminosity, for these scorching stars, so they could potentially shine with a similar amount of light.
"The Peony nebula star is a fascinating creature. It appears to be the second-brightest star that we now know of in the galaxy, and it's located deep into the galaxy's center," said Lidia Oskinova of Potsdam University in Germany.
"There are probably other stars just as bright if not brighter in our galaxy that remain hidden from view," she added.
Scientists already knew about the Peony nebula star, but because of its sheltered location in the dusty central hub of our galaxy, its extreme luminosity was not revealed until now.
Astronomers estimated that the Peony nebula star kicked off its life with a hefty mass of roughly 150 to 200 times that of our sun.
Stars this massive are rare and puzzle astronomers because they push the limits required for stars to form.
Not only is the Peony nebula star hefty, it also has a wide girth.
It is a type of giant blue star called a Wolf-Rayet star, with a diameter roughly 100 times that of our sun. That means this star, if placed where our sun is, would extend out to about the orbit of Mercury.
With so much mass, the star barely keeps itself together. It sheds an enormous amount of stellar matter in the form of strong winds over its relatively short lifetime of a few million years.
This matter is pushed so hard by strong radiation from the star that the winds speed up to about 1.6 million kilometers per hour in only a few hours.
Ultimately, the Peony nebula star will blow up in a fantastic explosion of cosmic proportions called a supernova.
In fact, Oskinova and her colleagues say that the star is ripe for exploding soon, which in astronomical terms mean anytime from now to millions of years from now.
"When this star blows up, it will evaporate any planets orbiting stars in the vicinity," said Oskinova. "Farther out from the star, the explosion could actually trigger the birth of new stars," he added.