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The star-breeding nursery in 30 Doradus. Photo: NASA / ESA Hubble Space Telescope

Extremely massive stars may be more abundant in at least one corner of the universe than astronomers have previously thought, according to new research published today in the Science. The finding, if confirmed elsewhere in the cosmos, could change our understanding about the evolution of galaxies, how these stars brought the universe came out of its dark period, the number of supernovae and the occurrence of black hole mergers in the universe.

"These stars and black holes are responsible for converting the universe into the state we see today," says lead author Fabian Schneider from the University of Oxford. "It is important to know how many progenitor stars may have been out in the universe."

How they did it: Using the Very Large Telescope, astronomers observed about 900 stars in 30 Doradus, a star nursery in the Tarantula Nebula that is part of the Large Magellanic Cloud, a galaxy neighboring our own Milky Way. The proximity of 30 Doradus was key because individual stars could be resolved and the distance of the stars was known so their brightness could be calculated, says Schneider.

They analyzed the spectra of the stars to determine their temperature, the acceleration due to gravity on their surface and other information about the stars that allowed them to calculate their mass. By comparing those parameters to theoretical models, they then calculated the age of the stars.

What they found: Focusing on the most massive stars — those 15–200 times the mass of our Sun, they discovered about 1/3 more stars above 30 solar masses than predicted by some star formation models. Other theories have suggested massive stars may be more prevalent than astronomers thought but this is "the first observational hint" that this may be the case, says Schneider.

Ponder this: The diameter of 30 Doradus is 600–700 light years. If you put it at same distance to Earth as the Orion nebula (about 1300 light years away), Schneider calculates it would cover 60 full moons of the night sky. It would be so bright it would cast shadows.

Go deeper: Charles Choi at Space.com has more details.

Go deeper

41 mins ago - World

Sudan's military places civilian prime minister under house arrest

Sudanese Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok during a 2020 news conference in Khartoum, Sudan. Photo: Mahmoud Hjaj/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Sudan's civilian Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok was put under house arrest and several other ministers were also detained Monday in what appears to be a military coup in the country, per local reports.

Why it matters: The arrests of the civilian faction in the Sudanese government came a day after U.S. envoy Jeffrey Feltman met with the head of the military faction of the Sudanese government General Abdul Fattah al-Burhan and warned him against staging a coup.

"Atmospheric river" swings Northern California from drought to flood

Satellite view of the bomb cyclone swirling off the coast of the Pacific Northwest and the atmospheric river affecting California on Oct. 24. Photo: CIRA/RAMMB

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are delivering historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest — triggering widespread power outages and flooding.

Why it matters: The strong atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, is causing Northern California to whiplash from drought to flood.

Updated 3 hours ago - World

Saudi dissident claims MBS said he could get "poison ring" to kill king

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attending the Saudi Green Initiative Forum, via video link, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Saturday. Photo: Royal Court of Saudi Arabia/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A former senior Saudi intelligence official who worked with the U.S. on counterterrorism alleged to "60 Minutes" in an interview broadcast Sunday that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman discussed in 2014 killing the kingdom's then-monarch.

Why it matters: The claim by the exiled Saad al-Jabri, whom Saudi authorities describe as "a discredited former government official," that the crown prince, known as "MBS," allegedly said he could obtain a "ring from Russia" to carry out the attack, is one of several serious but unproven allegations he made on the CBS show.