Central Object of the 30 Doradus Nebula, a Supermassive Star

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Science  26 Jun 1981:
Vol. 212, Issue 4502, pp. 1497-1501
DOI: 10.1126/science.212.4502.1497


R136 (HD 38268) is the central object of the 30 Doradus Nebula, a giant region of ionized hydrogen in the Large Magellanic Cloud. Observations of R136 at low and high spectral resolution with the International Ultraviolet Explorer reveal a peculiar hot object with a massive stellar wind. An outflow speed of 3500 kilometers per second and a temperature of approximately 60,000 K are indicated by the spectra. The bulk of the observed ultraviolet radiation must come from R136a, the brightest and bluest component of R136. Its absolute visual magnitude and observed temperature imply a luminosity about 108 times that of the sun. Most of the ionizations produced in 30 Doradus are provided by this peculiar object. If RI36a is a dense cluster of very hot stars, about 30 stars of classes O3 and WN3 exist in a region estimated to have a diameter of less than 0.1 parsec. This is inconsistent with the ultraviolet line spectrum and the evidence for optical variability. An alternative interpretation of the observations is that the radiation from R136a is dominated by a single superluminous object with the following approximate properties: luminosity and temperature as given above, a radius 100 times that of the sun, a mass 2500 times that of the sun, and a loss rate of 10–3.5 solar masses per year. Model interior calculations for hydrogen-burning stars are consistent with these parameters. Such stars, however, are expected to be unstable, and this may account for the massive stellar wind.