VY Canis Majoris is a stellar goliath. A red hypergiant, one of the largest known stars in the Milky Way. Located 3,900 light-years away from Earth in the constellation of Canis Major. This star is visible in a small telescope and has a strikingly red colour. The radius of VY CMs is about 1,420 times that of the Sun, which is close to the Hayashi limit and corresponds to a volume about 3 billion times bigger than the Sun. A hypothetical object travelling at the speed of light would take 6 hours to travel around the star's circumference, compared to 14.5 seconds for the Sun. If placed at the center of the Solar System, VY CMs surface would extend well beyond the orbit of Jupiter. A team of astronomers using ESO's Very Large Telescope (VTL), has captured the most detailed images ever of the hypergiant star. These observations show how the unexpectedly large size of the particles of dust surrounding the star enable it to lose an enormous amount of mass as it begins to die. This procces, understood now for the first time, is necessary to prepare such gigantic stars to meet explosive demises as supernovae.
Massive stars live short lives. When they near their final days, they lose a lot of mass. Scientists have found large grains of dust around this hypergiant. These are big enough to be pushed away by the star's intense radiation pressure, which explains the star's rapid mass loss. The size of the dust grains also means much of it is likely to survive the radiation produced by VY Canis Majoris' inevitable dramatic demise as a supernova. The explosion will be soon by astronomical standards, but there is no cause of alarm as this dramatic event is not likely for hundreds of thousands of years. It will be spectacular as seen from Earth - maybe the size of the Moon - but not a hazard to life here.