Paula Cleggett-Haleim Headquarters, Washington, D.C.

1991 (Phone: 202/453-1549) Jim Elliott Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. (Phone: 301/286-6256) RELEASE: 91-8

January 16,

HUBBLE SPACE TELESCOPE STUDIES MASSIVE STAR IN NEIGHBORING GALAXY Astronomers working with the Goddard High Resolution Spectrograph, an advanced instrument on NASA's Hubble Space Telescope (HST), reported today on what they call the best spectrograms ever obtained of Melnick 42, a very massive star in a galaxy 170,000 light-years from Earth. The report was presented to the meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Philadelphia by a team led by Dr. Sally Heap of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. Dr. Heap said that preliminary analysis of the spectrograms shows that Melnick 42 is between 80 and 100 times more massive than the sun, making it one of the most massive known stars. Further, the analysis reveals that Melnick 42 is shedding its hot gases at a furious rate in a so-called "stellar wind" that strips the star of an amount of gas equal in mass to the sun every 100,000 years. She explained that Melnick 42 is a hot young supergiant star in

the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a galaxy neighboring the Milky Way. The star may be only 2 million years old, compared with the 4.6-billion-year age of the Earth. Melnick 42 has a surface temperature of about 86,000 degrees Fahrenheit, or eight times hotter than the sun. According to present theory, Melnick 42 will explode as a supernova within the next few million years, while the sun will continue to shine for several billion years. Dr. Heap added that Melnick 42 is more than a million times brighter than the sun. - more -

-2She said her observations were made possible because Hubble's orbit is above the Earth's atmosphere which blocks the far ultraviolet light from reaching ground observatories. Also crucial to making the observations was the spectrograph's tiny entrance hole, only about 3/75th of an inch on a side, into which HST focussed the bright core of the star's image. "This excluded interfering light from stars near Melnick 42, which usually hampers observations," Dr. Heap explained. The purpose of the research, which involves astronomers in the United States and Europe, is to study how the chemical makeup of hot stars (stars hotter than the sun) influences the way in which the stars change with time on their inexorable road to stellar explosion. Some astronomers had thought that the low abundance of elements heavier than helium in stars of the LMC (such as Melnick 42) compared to stars in the Milky Way galaxy would result in the LMC stars having rather weak stellar winds. "Our findings on Melnick 42, if confirmed by additional study, seem to contradict this assumption," Dr. Heap said. - end -

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