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Gas and dust shot out by the star VY Canis Majoris. Photo: NASA/ESA/R. Humphreys

A huge star 300,000 times brighter than the Sun is nearing the end of its life and shrouding itself with dust, according to new data from the Hubble Space Telescope.

Why it matters: Learning more about this star — named VY Canis Majoris — will help astronomers piece together how stars much larger than the Sun evolve and behave at the ends of their stellar lives.

What they found: Scientists using the Hubble found the red hypergiant star is actually shooting out gas and dust, making it look dimmer from the telescope's perspective.

  • "VY Canis Majoris may be in a unique evolutionary state that separates it from the other stars. It's probably this active over a very short period, maybe only a few thousand years. We're not going to see many of those around," astrophysicist Roberta Humphreys, who led a new study about the star in The Astronomical Journal, said in a statement.
  • Scientists expect the star will either one day explode as a supernova or collapse into a black hole.

The intrigue: The star is behaving a lot like another huge, famous star — Betelgeuse.

  • Researchers were keeping an eye on Betelgeuse last year when it appeared to dim far more than expected, stoking excitement that it might be heading for its own supernova explosion.
  • But later research found the star was actually being obscured by dust, causing the apparent dimming.
  • "The origin of these high mass-loss episodes in both VY Canis Majoris and Betelgeuse is probably caused by large-scale surface activity, large convective cells like on the Sun," Humphreys said, referencing features of a star's surface created by the cooling and heating of plasma. "But on VY Canis Majoris, the cells may be as large as the whole Sun or larger."

Go deeper

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Democrats' billionaires tax explained

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

There is now legislative language behind the push to tax American billionaires on unrealized capital gains, as Sen. Ron Wyden last night released his 107-page plan.

Why it matters: This would be a sea change in U.S. tax policy, which has only applied to realized gains (otherwise known as income).

COP26 head warns Glasgow summit will be "harder than Paris"

Alok Sharma, U.K. COP26 president, in Milan on Sept. 30, 2021. Photo: Stefano Guidi/Getty Images

U.K. COP26 President Alok Sharma told reporters Tuesday that the upcoming talks in Glasgow, widely viewed as the last chance to avoid some of the worst consequences of global warming, will be extremely difficult.

Driving the news: Sharma sought to temper expectations and note that the agenda features some of the toughest items that negotiators have punted on at previous summits.

5 hours ago - World

Scoop: Blinken protests Israel settlements approval in "tense" phone call

Benny Gantz (L) and Tony Blinken. Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/Pool/AFP via Getty

Secretary of State Tony Blinken protested the decision to approve 3,000 new housing units in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank during a tense phone call on Tuesday with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, three Israeli officials tell me.

Why it matters: This is the first time new construction in the settlements has been approved since President Biden assumed office, and the Biden administration had been privately pressing the Israeli government not to proceed.