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Zeta Puppis is one of the most impressive stars in the galaxy. It’s big, hot, heavy, and bright. Unfortunately, though, astronomers aren’t sure just how big, hot, heavy, and bright it really is. That’s because they can’t agree on how far away it is. Estimates range from roughly a thousand to two thousand light-years.

Zeta Puppis is the brightest star of the constellation Puppis. It represents the poop deck — the elevated deck at the stern of the Argo, the boat that carried Jason and the Argonauts. The constellation is due south as night falls, just above the horizon.

Zeta Puppis is a class “O” star — the hottest and brightest of all stars. Its details vary depending on its distance. In general, though, it’s a few dozen times the mass of the Sun, and up to a couple of dozen times the Sun’s diameter. And it’s probably at least half a million times the Sun’s total brightness.

The star is moving through space in a hurry — far faster than any of the stars around it. That suggests that it’s a “runaway” — a star that got the boot. It could have had a companion star that exploded as a supernova, for example.

Zeta Puppis is quite young — only a few million years old. Because of its great bulk, though, it will live only a few million years longer. When its time is up, its core will collapse to form a neutron star or a black hole. And its outer layers will explode as a supernova — a brilliant ending for a brilliant star.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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