Almost all massive stars explode as supernovae and form a black hole or neutron star. The remnant mass and the impact of the chemical yield on subsequent star formation and galactic evolution strongly depend on the internal physics of the progenitor star, which is currently not well understood. The theoretical uncertainties of stellar interiors accumulate with stellar age, which is particularly pertinent for the blue supergiant phase. Stellar oscillations represent a unique method of probing stellar interiors, yet inference for blue supergiants is hampered by a dearth of observed pulsation modes. Here we report the detection of diverse variability in blue supergiants using the K2 and TESS space missions. The discovery of pulsation modes or an entire spectrum of low-frequency gravity waves in these stars allow us to map the evolution of hot massive stars towards the ends of their lives. Future asteroseismic modelling will provide constraints on ages, core masses, interior mixing, rotation and angular momentum transport. The discovery of variability in blue supergiants is a step towards a data-driven empirical calibration of theoretical evolution models for the most massive stars in the Universe.

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Data availability

The data that support the plots within this paper and other findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

Code availability

The K2 systematics correction code k2sc is freely available and documented at https://github.com/OxES/k2sc. The iterative pre-whitening code is freely available and documented at https://github.com/IvS-KULeuven/IvSPythonRepository. The Python Markov chain Monte Carlo code emcee is freely available and documented at http://dfm.io/emcee/current/. The stellar evolution code, MESA, is freely available and documented at http://mesa.sourceforge.net/, and the stellar pulsation code, GYRE, is freely available and documented at https://bitbucket.org/rhdtownsend/gyre/wiki/Home.

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The K2 and TESS data presented in this paper were obtained from the Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes (MAST). Funding for the K2 mission is provided by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. Funding for the TESS mission is provided by the NASA Explorer Program. STScI is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, under NASA contract NAS5-26555. Support for MAST for non-HST data is provided by the NASA Office of Space Science via grant NNX09AF08G and by other grants and contracts. The Gaia data in this paper come from the European Space Agency mission Gaia, processed by the Gaia Data Processing and Analysis Consortium (DPAC). Funding for the DPAC has been provided by national institutions, in particular the institutions participating in the Gaia Multilateral Agreement. This research has made use of the SIMBAD database, operated at CDS, Strasbourg, France; the SAO/NASA Astrophysics Data System; and the VizieR catalogue access tool, CDS, Strasbourg, France. The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement number 670519: MAMSIE). T.M.R., P.V.F.E. and R.P.R. received support from STFC grant ST/L005549/1 and NASA grant NNX17AB92G. S.S.-D. acknowledges financial support from the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (MINECO) through grants AYA2015-68012-C2-1 and Severo Ochoa SEV-2015-0548, and grant ProID2017010115 from the Gobierno de Canarias. B.J.S.P. is a NASA Sagan Fellow. This work was performed in part under contract with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory funded by NASA through the Sagan Fellowship Program executed by the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute. T.R.W. acknowledges the support of the Australian Research Council (grant DP150100250).

Author information


  1. Instituut voor Sterrenkunde, KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium

    • Dominic M. Bowman
    • , Siemen Burssens
    • , May G. Pedersen
    • , Cole Johnston
    • , Conny Aerts
    • , Bram Buysschaert
    • , Mathias Michielsen
    • , Andrew Tkachenko
    •  & Ehsan Moravveji
  2. Department of Astrophysics, IMAPP, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen, the Netherlands

    • Conny Aerts
  3. LESIA, Observatoire de Paris, Université PSL, CNRS, Sorbonne Université, Univ. Paris Diderot, Sorbonne Paris Cité, Meudon, France

    • Bram Buysschaert
  4. School of Mathematics, Statistics and Physics, Newcastle University, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK

    • Tamara M. Rogers
    • , Philipp V. F. Edelmann
    •  & Rathish P. Ratnasingam
  5. Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, AZ, USA

    • Tamara M. Rogers
  6. Instituto de Astrofísicade Canarias, La Laguna, Tenerife, Spain

    • Sergio Simón-Díaz
  7. Departamento de Astrofísica, Universidad de La Laguna, La Laguna, Tenerife, Spain

    • Sergio Simón-Díaz
  8. Leibniz-Institut für Astrophysik Potsdam, Potsdam, Germany

    • Norberto Castro
  9. NASA Sagan Fellow, Center for Cosmology and Particle Physics, Department of Physics, New York University, New York, NY, USA

    • Benjamin J. S. Pope
  10. Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Mount Stromlo Observatory, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

    • Timothy R. White
  11. Royal Observatory of Belgium, Brussels, Belgium

    • Peter De Cat


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Definition of the science case and submission of the K2/TESS guest observer/investigator proposals: C.A., E.M., P.D.C., B.B., M.G.P., A.T., D.M.B., C.J., T.M.R., P.V.F.E. and R.P.R. Processing and data reduction of K2/TESS photometry: D.M.B., S.B., B.B., B.J.S.P. and T.R.W. Frequency analysis, fitting and interpretation of the results: D.M.B., C.J., M.M., C.A. and A.T. Reduction, analysis and interpretation of Gaia photometry: D.M.B. and M.G.P. Analysis, interpretation and comparison of results to hydrodynamical simulations: T.M.R., P.V.F.E. and R.P.R. Co-ordination of future follow-up spectroscopy: D.M.B., S.S.-D., N.C. and S.B. All authors discussed and commented on the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Dominic M. Bowman.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Data captions and Supplementary Figs. 1–170

  2. Supplementary Data 1

    Parameters of the 114 OB stars observed by the K2 space mission.

  3. Supplementary Data 2

    Parameters of 53 OB stars in the LMC observed by the TESS space mission.

  4. Supplementary Data 3

    Fit parameters of residual amplitude spectra of K2 OB stars.

  5. Supplementary Data 4

    Fit parameters of amplitude spectra of TESS LMC OB stars.

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