Earth’s neighboring star Betelgeuse unexpectedly brightened 50% – part of a strange process that will end in the dying star going supernova

Earth’s neighboring star Betelgeuse unexpectedly brightened 50% – part of a strange process that will end in the dying star going supernova

A picture of Betelgeuse taken by the Hubble telescope appears as a blob of orange matter on a black background

A picture of Betelgeuse taken by the Hubble telescope.Andrea Dupree (Harvard-Smithsonian CfA), Ronald Gilliland (STScI),NASA and ESA

  • Betelgeuse is once again baffling astronomers as it now shines 50% brighter than usual.

  • This dying red giant had only recently mysteriously dimmed its glow after a massive explosion.

  • It is expected to explode into a supernova visible from Earth, though probably not for thousands of years.

Betelgeuse, one of the most visible stars in Earth’s sky, is behaving very strangely.

The red giant – a star not far from death – now shines around 50% brighter than usual, scientists said.

This comes a few years after it mysteriously weakened in 2019, sparking speculation about whether it was ready to collapse and explode.

Scientists later found out that Betelgeuse was not collapsing yet. But it had experienced a massive explosion that affected its clarity.

betelgeuse star orange light dims in space

These images, taken with the Very Large Telescope, show the surface of the red supergiant Betelgeuse as it dims from January 2019 (far left) to March 2020 (far right).ESO/M. Montarge et al.

More recently, astronomers have noticed that Betelgeuse returns to its brightest state about twice as fast as normal, in about 200 days, according to a study published May 18 on the pre-print server arXiv.

It’s not uncommon for Betelgeuse to fade and brighten, but that usually happens after a 400-day cycle. This cycle shortening is likely related to 2019’s Great Dimming, experts say.

Your friendly neighborhood giant dying star

A photo of Betelgeuse taken from Earth shows it shining brightly against other stars in the firmament.

A photo of Betelgeuse in visible light, taken from Earth.ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgments: Davide De Martin.

Scientists are keeping a close eye on Betelgeuse, as this red giant is a dying star on the verge of going supernova. However, given the vast timescales of stellar life, this final step could take thousands of years.

Betelgeuse (pronounced as the Tim Burton character Beetlejuice) is a relatively young star in Earth’s backyard, located in the Milky Way about 640 light-years away.

It is about 10 million years old, much younger than our sun, which has been around for about 5 billion years. But this star is so big, about 700 times the size of the sun, that it’s already starting to die.

“One of the coolest things about Betelgeuse is that we can see the final stages of the evolution of large stars playing out before us in almost real time, which we’ve never been able to study in such depth before,” he said. Sara Webb, an astrophysicist at Australia’s Swinburne University of Technology, in an interview with the Guardian.

The explosion can still be felt

An artist's impression shows Betelgeuse obscured by a cloud of dust

An artist’s impression of how a cloud of dust could have obscured Betelgeuse.ESO, ESA/Hubble, M. Kornmesser

Betelgeuse’s weird behavior is likely related to the Great Dimming of 2019 and 2020.

Scientists started ringing alarm bells when they saw that Betelgeuse had lost its brightness in no time in 2019. When massive stars abruptly lose their brightness, it can be a warning sign that they are about to explode.

But later analysis suggested something else: an explosion. Betelgeuse had released a massive amount of its plasma into space during the blast, seen in the artist’s impression here:

Four panels side by side show an artist's impression of a massive ejection of the corona mass, 400 billion times larger than normal, that led to the formation of a cloud of dust that obscured Betelgeuse.  The panels show matter slowly erupting from Betelgeuse and then dissipating in a cloud of dust that obscures view from Earth.

An artist’s impression shows the sequence of events leading up to the dimming of Betelgeuse in 2019.NASA, ESA, Elizabeth Wheatley (STScI)

The explosion was so massive that it created a dense cloud of cosmic dust that stood between Earth and Betelgeuse, obscuring the star from view.

Andrea Dupree, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who tracks the star, told Scientific American that the star’s strange behavior is likely a result of this massive explosion.

“Imagine taking out a piece of the material. Then everything else will whiz in and it’ll slosh,” he said.

Betelgeuse could one day erupt in a supernova visible from Earth

bright star surrounded by layers of pink-yellow-red clouds billowing into starry black space

A pre-supernova star, called a Wolf-Rayet star, located 15,000 light-years away in the constellation Sagittarius.NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO production team

When it finally explodes, Betelgeuse will be far enough away not to be dangerous to our planet, but close enough to be a spectacular show for all who watch.

On the day, the sight will be memorable. The explosion will be so bright that it could be visible during the day for about a week, The Guardian reported. The last time such a supernova exploded in our galaxy was in the 17th century, Insider previously reported.

That is, if there are still people around to see it. Experts are quick to explain that this is unlikely to happen for the next 10,000 years.

That said, stars are very unpredictable, so a supernova in our lifetime isn’t entirely impossible.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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