The Top 10 Most Massive Stars

There are trillions upon trillions of stars in the universe. On dark night you can see perhaps a few thousand, depending on the location where you do your viewing. Even a quick glance at the sky can tell you about stars: some look brighter than others, some may even seem to have a colorful hue. 

What a Star's Mass Tells Us

Astronomers study stars' characteristics to understand something about how they are born, live, and die. One important factor is a star's mass. Some are only a fraction of the Sun's mass, while others are equivalent to hundreds of Suns. It is important to note that "most massive" doesn't necessarily mean the largest. That distinction depends not only on mass, but at what stage of evolution the star is currently in.

Interestingly, the theoretical limit to a star's mass is about 120 solar masses (that is, that's how massive they can become and still remain stable). Yet, there are stars at the top of the following list are beyond that limit. How they can exist is still something astronomers are figuring out. (Note: we don't have images of all the stars in the list, but have included them when there's an actual scientific observation showing the star or its region in space.)

Updated and edited by Carolyn Collins Petersen.

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star-forming region R136
The very massive star R136a1 lies in this star-forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud (a neighbor galaxy to the Milky Way). NASA/ESA/STScI

The star R136a1 currently holds the record as the most massive star known to exist in the universe. It's more than 265 times the mass of our Sun, more than double most stars on this list. Astronomers are still trying to understand how the star can even exist. It is also the most luminous at nearly 9 million times that of our Sun. It is part of a super cluster in the Tarantula Nebula in the Large Magellanic Cloud, which is also the location of some of the other massive stars of the universe.

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WR 101e

The mass of WR 101e has been measured to exceed 150 times the mass of our Sun. Very little is known about this object, but its sheer size earns it a spot on our list.

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HD 269810

Found in the Dorado constellation, HD 269810 (also known as HDE 269810 or R 122) is nearly 170,000 light-years from Earth. It is about 18.5 times the radius of our Sun, while outputting more than 2.2 million times the Sun's luminosity.

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WR 102ka (the Peony Nebula Star)

massive stars in the peony nebula
The Peony Nebula (shown here in an image from the Spitzer Space Telescope), contains one of the most massive stars in the universe: WR 102a. NASA/Spitzer Space Telescope. The star itself is heavily obscured by dust, which is heated by the star's radiation. The dust then glows in infrared light, which allows infrared-sensitive Spitzer to "see" it.

Located in the constellation Sagittarius, the Peony Nebula Star is a Worf-Rayet class blue hypergiant, similar to R136a1. It may also be one of the most luminous stars, at more than 3.2 million times that of our Sun, in the Milky Way galaxy. In addition to its 150 solar mass heft, it is also a rather large star, some 100 times the radius the Sun.

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LBV 1806-20

There is actually a fair amount of controversy surrounding LBV 1806-20 as some claim that it is not a single star at all, but rather a binary system. The mass of the system (somewhere between 130 and 200 times the mass of our Sun) would place it squarely on this list. However, if it is in fact two (or more) stars then the individual masses could fall below the 100 solar mass mark. They would still be massive by solar standards, but not up to par with those on this list.

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HD 93129A

trumpler 14 and massive stars
The star cluster Trumpler 14 contains many massive stars, including one called HD 93129A (the brightest star in the image). This cluster has many other bright and massive stars. It lies in the southern hemisphere constellation of Carina. ESO

This blue hypergiant also makes the shortlist for the most luminous stars in the Milky Way. Located in the nebula NGC 3372, this object is relatively close compared to some of the other behemoths on this list. Located in the constellation Carina this star is thought to have a mass around 120 to 127 solar masses. Interestingly, it is part of a binary system with its companion star weighing in at a not-insignificant 80 solar masses.

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HD 93250

Image of the Week for Dark Clouds of the Carina Nebula
The Carina Nebula (in the Southern Hemisphere sky) is home to many massive stars, including HD 93250, hidden among its clouds. NASA, ESA, N. Smith (U. California, Berkeley) et al., and Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Add HD 93250 to the list of blue hypergiants on this list. With a mass about 118 times the mass of our Sun, this star located in the constellation Carina is about 11,000 light-years away. Little else is known about this object, but its size alone earns it a spot on our list.

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NGC 3603-A1

A star cluster with a massive star at its heart.
The core of the cluster NGC 3603 contains the massive star NGC 3603-A1. It's in the center and slightly to the upper right and was just barely resolved in this Hubble Space Telescope image. NASA/ESA/STScI

Another binary system object, NGC 3603-A1 is about 20,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Carina. The 116 solar mass star has a companion that tips the scales at more than 89 solar masses.

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Pismis 24-1A

a star cluster with massive stars.
The star cluster Pismis 24, located in the heart of a nebula in the constellation Scorpius, is home to a number of very massive stars, including Pismis 24-1 (the brightest star in the center of this image). ESO/IDA/Danish 1.5/ R. Gendler, U.G. Jørgensen, J. Skottfelt, K. Harpsøe

Part of the nebula NGC 6357, located in the Pismis 24 open cluster, is a variable blue supergiant. Part of a cluster of three nearby objects, 24-1A represents the most massive and most luminous of the group, with a mass between 100 and 120 solar masses.

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Pismis 24-1 B

a star cluster with massive stars.
The star cluster Pismis 24 also contains the star Pismis 24-1b. ESO/IDA/Danish 1.5/ R. Gendler, U.G. Jørgensen, J. Skottfelt, K. Harpsøe

This star, like 24-1A, is another 100+ solar mass star in Pismis 24 region within the constellation Scorpius. 

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Your Citation
Millis, John P., Ph.D. "The Top 10 Most Massive Stars." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2017, Millis, John P., Ph.D. (2017, August 26). The Top 10 Most Massive Stars. Retrieved from Millis, John P., Ph.D. "The Top 10 Most Massive Stars." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 16, 2018).