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Hubble gets look at most powerful star

The Hubble space telescope has captured a glimpse of what is believed to be most powerful star ever detected - a colossus that pumps out 10 million times more energy than the sun and yet can't be seen with the naked eye.

The Pistol Star was first observed in the early 1990s by astronomers in South Africa and Japan using Earth-based telescopes with infrared cameras. But it wasn't until Hubble provided a clearer infrared look three weeks ago that astronomers at the University of California at Los Angeles realized how powerful it is.It releases as much energy in six seconds as the sun does in a whole year, according to the research team led by Don Figer.

"This star may have been more massive than any other star when it was formed, and now, it is still without question among the most massive - even at the low end of our estimates," he said.

The new images show a large, hot star within a bright, pistol-shaped nebula, the gaseous cloud from which the star gets its name. Figer said the find could eventually yield insights into star formation and evolution.

Hubble captured the images on Sept. 13 and 14. Figer and his colleagues were so excited by what they saw, they released the images Tuesday before they could publish their findings.

Researchers estimate the Pistol Star is 25,000 light-years from Earth, near the center of the Milky Way. It is invisible to the eye because interstellar dust absorbs most of the light it gives off.

The star has an estimated radius of 93 million to 140 million miles. The sun has a radius of 430,000 miles and is 93 million miles from Earth.

The astronomers estimate the Pistol Star formed 1 million to 3 million years ago and could have been 200 times more massive than the sun back then.

Roberta Humphreys, an astronomy professor at the University of Minnesota, said the findings may be a bit overstated. She said she isn't convinced from the new images that the Pistol Star is a single star.

"They don't have sufficient resolution to see if that's one star or two or three, and it could be at that distance," she said.