But VY Canis Majoris does not have long for this universe. It is approaching the final stages of its stellar hyper-life and in the process is rapidly swelling outwards, shedding huge amounts of material into space as it does.
ANALYSIS: Staring into a Seething Nest of Massive Stars
Using the planet-hunting power of the Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet Research instrument (aka SPHERE) installed on the Unit 3 Telescope at ESO's VLT in Chile astronomers have been able to directly observe how light from VY Canis Majoris is scattered and polarized by the clouds of dust and gas cast off by the aging star.
Every year the equivalent of 30 Earths are shed by VY Canis Majoris, much of it in the form of relatively large particles of dust - particles big enough to get caught up in the outward radiation pressure from the expanding star and even survive the supernova that will eventually tear the enormous star apart.
"Massive stars live short lives," said Peter Scicluna of the Academia Sinica Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics in Taiwan and lead author of a new paper which will be published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics. "When they near their final days, they lose a lot of mass. In the past, we could only theorise about how this happened. But now, with the new SPHERE data, we 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."
ANALYSIS: Old Star Wears Sunblock
VY Canis Majoris' demise will occur cosmically soon but still not for another few hundred thousand years. When it goes it will be a stunning - yet still quite safe - sight from Earth, shining as bright as the full moon as it explosively scatters its stellar guts into the galaxy.