Superstar: VY Canis Majoris

Now, usually in this little blog, I prefer to report the most current scientific news I can find. But I have discovered something that so shocked me that I had to talk about it, old news as it may be.

While I was wandering about on the internet, I ran across a computer-generated video that lined up all of the larger bodies in the solar system, starting from Pluto. It panned and zoomed across the line, progressing to Earth, then to Saturn, Jupiter, the sun, and so on. I was thunderstruck by the tiny scale of the sun compared to the giant star Antares. But what really knocked my socks off was the grandeur of the star VV Cephei, which was so large that the low resolution of the video actually made the sun invisible when the camera was zoomed out far enough to see all of the star. A quick consultation with Wikipedia revealed that VV Cephei, while enormous, is not actually the largest star. The red hypergiant VY Canis Majoris is actually a full ten percent larger than that!

Always having been a fan of scale comparisons, I brought up Blender immediately (Blender is by far the coolest piece of free software I’ve ever seen. It’s an open-source 3D modeling and rendering engine, and it rivals or beats anything else I’ve seen on the market. You can learn more here, if you feel so inclined.) I’ve found Blender very handy for this, since you can enter an exact numerical scaling factor when resizing an object. So I created a sphere to represent the Sun, and a sphere to represent VY Canis Majoris (which is 2100 times larger). This was the result:

Click here for a larger version of this image.

The Sun is that little yellow blotch. The enormous red one is VY Canis Majoris. The sun compared to this giant among stars is, to me, like the height of Mount Everest compared to the Earth on which it sits.

Once in a blue moon, the universe still amazes me…