UY Scuti is a red supergiant or red hypergiant star located in the direction of the constellation Scutum. With an estimated radius of 1,708 solar radii, it is a previous record holder for the largest star known. The supergiant is classified as a pulsating variable star. Its brightness varies from magnitude 8.29 to 10.56. As it is only 9th magnitude even at its brightest, the star is invisible to the unaided eye. It can be seen in 4-inch and larger telescopes.
With an absolute magnitude of -6.2, UY Scuti is an exceptionally luminous star – about 340,000 times more luminous than the Sun – but its location and distance of 9,500 light years make it dimmer when seen from Earth. UY Scuti lies in the region of the sky known as the Zone of Avoidance and is heavily obscured by the Milky Way.
UY Scuti is an evolutionary red hypergiant with the stellar classification M2-M4Ia-Iab. With a surface temperature of 3,365 K, the star is about 340,000 times more luminous than the Sun. Its estimated luminosity is between 180,000 and 630,000 times that of the Sun.
The estimated mass of UY Scuti is between 7 and 10 solar masses. The star is losing mass at a rate of 5.8 x 10-5 solar masses per year. As a result, it is surrounded by a large and complex envelope of dust. The cloud of gas lost by the star stretches across 400 astronomical units.
UY Scuti is enshrouded in dust and does not have any visible companions, which makes it difficult to determine its stellar parameters with a high degree of certainty. The presence of companions would allow scientists to measure the star’s mass through gravitational interference.
UY Scuti is classified as a semiregular variable star of the subtype SRc. These stars are typically variable supergiants of late spectral classes. Their brightness changes because the stars change in size as they pulsate. UY Scuti has a pulsation period of about 740 days.
Several well-known behemoths belong to this group, including Betelgeuse (764 – 1,021 R☉), Rasalgethi (284 R☉), MY Cephei (1,134 – 2,061 R☉), Mu Cephei (972 R☉), VV Cephei (779.27 R☉), EV Carinae (1,168 R☉), VX Sagittarii (1,350 – 1,940 R☉), KW Sagittarii (1,009 R☉), AH Scorpii (1,411 R☉), PZ Cassiopeiae (1,062 R☉), NML Cygni (1,183 – 2,770 R☉), RW Cygni (1,000 R☉), and possibly VY Canis Majoris (1,420 R☉).
UY Scuti has a radius about 1,708 times that of the Sun. This translates into 1.188 x 109 kilometers or 7.94 astronomical units (Earth-Sun distances).
The size of a red supergiant or hypergiant is notoriously difficult to determine. These stars pulsate and have diffuse edges, without a harsh dividing line between the star and the interstellar medium. Astronomers use the star’s photosphere to measure its size. The photosphere is the deepest region of a star, where the star becomes transparent to light. It extends into the surface to an optical depth of about 2/3, which is a depth from which 50% of the star’s light can escape without scattering.
As UY Scuti belongs to the class of variable stars that vary in brightness because they vary in size, the star’s radius will probably change over time.
More recent measurements of the star’s parallax by the Gaia space observatory have yielded significantly lower values for the star’s distance (5,100 light years) and consequently luminosity (86,300–87,100 L☉) and radius (755 R☉). However, the Gaia measurements may have been affected by astrometric noise and are not completely reliable.
The margin of error on the measurement of UY Scuti’s size is 192 solar radii, which means that there is a possibility that it may not be as large as WOH G64 (1,540 – 1,730 R☉), the largest star in the Large Magellanic Cloud. It certainly does not come close to the current record holders, Stephenson 2-18 (2,150 R☉) and MY Cephei. (2,061 R☉), which may exceed the theoretical limit of star size (1,500 R☉).
UY Scuti compared to the Sun
The size of UY Scuti is about 750 million miles, or almost eight astronomical units. If the supergiant were placed at the center of the solar system, its photosphere would extend far beyond the orbit of Jupiter, closer to the orbit of Saturn. UY Scuti has a volume almost 5 billion times that of the Sun.
To illustrate, if the Earth were the size of a ball 20 cm (8 inches) in diameter, Jupiter would be 2.1 m (7 feet) in diameter, the Sun would be 22 m (7 feet) across, and the diameter of UY Scuti would extend for about 38,000 m (125,000 feet). A hypothetical object moving at the speed of light would take only 14.5 seconds to travel around the Sun, while it would need about seven hours to circle around UY Scuti.
UY Scuti compared to VY Canis Majoris
UY Scuti compared to Stephenson 2-18
UY Scuti compared to planets and other large stars
A star’s size does not always correlate with its mass. In spite of its enormous size – 7 to 8 astronomical units across – UY Scuti does not even make the list of the most massive stars known.
With an estimated mass between 7 and 10 times the mass of our Sun, the red supergiant star is not even in the same ballpark as the current record holders Westerhout 49-2 (250 M☉) in the H II region Westerhout 49 and BAT99-98 (226 M☉) and R136a1 (196 M☉), located in the Tarantula Nebula in the Large Magellanic Cloud. For reference, Westerhout 49-2 has an estimated radius of only 55.29 solar radii.
In terms of mass, UY Scuti also does not come close to the famous Eta Carinae A (100 M☉), the central star of the Carina Nebula, or to the Peony Star (WR 102ka, 100 M☉), which illuminates the Peony Nebula. Even the red supergiant Antares is more massive, with an estimated mass between 11 and 14.3 solar masses. Antares, too, is significantly smaller than UY Scuti. It has a radius of about 680 times that of the Sun.
UY Scuti is massive enough to be a supernova candidate. Based on its known properties, the star is fusing hydrogen around its core and has begun to fuse helium. It is expected to evolve back to hotter temperatures and eventually become either a yellow hypergiant, a Wolf-Rayet star, or a luminous blue variable.
The star’s location in the galactic disc indicates that it is metal-rich and, once it runs out of helium, it will keep fusing progressively heavier elements until it develops an iron core. This will disturb the balance needed to sustain the core against its own gravity, triggering a core collapse. As a result, the star will end its life in a supernova event, leaving behind a neutron star or a black hole.
When it does, the X-ray and gamma-ray radiation will not affect Earth. For a supernova blast to damage our ozone layer, it would need to occur within 50 light years and UY Scuti lies 9,500 light years away. However, the supernova will likely be visible from Earth even without a telescope.
UY Scuti was given the designation BD-12°5055 by a group of German astronomers at the Bonn Observatory, who were the first to catalogue the star in 1860. They discovered the supergiant while conducting a survey for the Bonner Durchmusterung (BD) astrometric star catalogue.
The second survey showed a slight change in the star’s brightness, and the star was subsequently given the variable star designation UY Scuti, as the 38th variable star found in Scutum.
The true size of UY Scuti was calculated after a survey with the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile’s Atacama Desert, conducted in 2012 to measure the parameters of three large stars in the region of the sky near the Galactic Centre. The observations were carried out in the near-infrared K band with the VLTI/AMBER instrument. The other two stars included in the study were AH Scorpii and KW Sagittarii, also red supergiants with a luminosity over 100,000 times that of the Sun and among the largest stars known.
The researchers estimated the Rosseland-mean photospheric angular diameter (where the Rosseland optical depth equals 2/3) of UY Scuti to be 5.48 ± 0.10 milliarcseconds. Combined with the distance of 9,500 ly, they found a radius of 1,708 solar radii and derived an initial mass of 25 solar masses for a rotating star and up to 40 solar masses for a non-rotating one.
Following the discovery of the supergiant’s size, UY Scuti was named the largest known star, leaving behind VY Canis Majoris, NML Cygni, and Betelgeuse, which had all previously carried the title.
UY Scuti lies two degrees north of the white magnitude 4.67 star Gamma Scuti, in the region of the sky just northeast of the famous Eagle Nebula (Messier 16). The star can be observed in a 4-inch or larger telescope in good conditions. The open cluster NGC 6604 (mag. 6.5) is located in the same area of the sky.
UY Scuti is located in the constellation Scutum, the Shield. The constellation was created by the Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius in 1684. It was originally named Scutum Sobiescianum in honour of the Polish King John III Sobieski and his triumph in the 1683 Battle of Vienna.
Scutum is one of the smallest constellations in the sky (84th in size out of 88). It stretches across an area of only 109 square degrees of the southern sky.
None of the stars in Scutum are among the 300 brightest stars in the sky. The four brightest stars in the constellation form an elongated diamond-shaped asterism that is visible near the tail of Aquila (the Eagle) on a clear night. Alpha Scuti, the brightest star in Scutum, is an orange giant with an apparent magnitude of 3.83. Other Scutum stars are fainter than magnitude 4.0.
Scutum is home to the famous variable star Delta Scuti, an F-type giant that serves as a prototype for its own class of variable stars. Delta Scuti variables are young stars that exhibit variations in brightness due to pulsations.
Scutum also contains Stephenson 2-18, a red hypergiant star that currently holds the record for the largest star known, with a radius 2,150 times that of the Sun.
Scutum hosts several relatively bright deep sky objects that are popular targets for stargazers. These include the famous Wild Duck Cluster (Messier 11), an exceptionally rich and densely populated open cluster with an apparent magnitude of 5.8, the fainter open star cluster Messier 26 (mag. 8), the globular cluster NGC 6712 (mag 8.69), and the planetary nebula IC 1295 (mag. 12.7).
Scutum is also home to the young open clusters RSGC1 (Red Supergiant Cluster 1) and RSGC3, both among the most massive clusters known in the Milky Way galaxy.
The best time of the year to observe the stars and deep sky objects in Scutum is during the month of August, when the constellation rises high above the horizon in the evening. The entire constellation is visible from locations between the latitudes 80° N and 90° S.
The 10 brightest stars in Scutum are Alpha Scuti (mag. 3.83), Beta Scuti (mag. 4.22), Zeta Scuti (mag. 4.66), Gamma Scuti (mag. 4.67), Delta Scuti (mag. 4.60 – 4.79), Eta Scuti (mag. 4.83), Epsilon Scuti (mag. 4.88), HD 175156 (mag. 5.08), HD 171391 (mag. 5.12), and R Scuti (mag. 4.2 – 8.6).
|Variable type:||Semiregular variable (SRc)|
|U-B colour index||+3.29|
|B-V colour index||+3.00|
|Apparent magnitude||8.29 – 10.56|
|Distance||9,500 ± 1,030 light-years (2,900 ± 317 parsecs)|
|Parallax||0.5166 ± 0.0494 mas|
|Radial velocity||16.78 ± 0.54 km/s|
|Proper motion||RA: -0.288 ± 0.053 mas/yr|
|Dec.: -2.718 ± 0.044 mas/yr|
|Luminosity||340,000 L☉ (180,000 – 630,000 L☉)|
|Radius||1,708 ±192 R☉|
|Temperature||3,365 ± 134 K|
|Surface gravity||-0.5 cgs|
|Right ascension||18h 27m 36.5281722872s|
|Declination||-12° 27′ 58.898573715”|
|Designations||UY Scuti, UY Sct, BD-2 5055, HV 3805, PPM 234561, RAFGL 21162, GSC 05698-05176, IRAS 18248-1229, TYC 5698-5176-1, Gaia DR2 4152993273702130432, Gaia DR3 4152993273702130432, IRC-10422, WISE J182736.57-122800.7, 2MASS J18273652-1227589|