'Next Supernova' Exploding Star Plays Weird Again

If it gets dark tonight, go outside and look at the southwest sky. Can you see Orion's Belt? Those three bright stars—Alnitag, Alnilam, and Mintaka—are unknown, but just above it is a bright star, the ruddy-colored supergiant Betelgeuse. An icon of the winter night sky in the Northern Hemisphere, it is the closest red supergiant star to the Solar System.

This „shoulder” star in Orion is A boiling surface and must be the tenth brightest in the sky. But according to a new study, its brightness has decreased by 0/5 magnitude since late January. Earthsky And Sky & Telescope. Is Betelgeuse Exploding?

Exciting opportunity

It's unlikely to happen now, but we know it will almost certainly explode as a supernova sometime in the next 100,000 years. In the lifetime of stars, that's very early, but it's a very exciting prospect for astronomers, since we haven't seen a supernova pass through our Milky Way galaxy since the 17th century.

A 2023 paper It predicts that Betelgeuse's core will exhaust its carbon fuel within 300 years and that „a major collapse leading to a supernova explosion is expected within a few decades”. This makes any small changes in its brightness very interesting.

'Great Timing'

Betelgeuse – also known as Alpha Orionis – is 20 times the mass of the Sun and 1,400 times its size. It is 650 light-years away from the solar system, so what is happening with it now happened already 650 years ago – we are just now seeing its light. or lack thereof. But Beetlejuice is 50 light-years beyond the „supernova danger zone” so there's no need to worry.

In late 2019 and early 2020, Betelgeuse made headlines for its sudden „great dimming,” during which it fell to 40% of its usual brightness before gradually returning to normal. The shape also changed.

Although it was already known to be a variable star, its brightness changed over about 400 days and over six years, and nothing as dramatic as its „big fade” had ever been observed.

mass exodus

Several theories for Betelgeuse's „great dimming” have been proposed, including:

  • Convection caused a cold spot in its southern hemisphere, which appeared dim.
  • This is a natural variation in brightness caused by pulsations or interactions with other stars.
  • It's a dusty, red supergiant star that emits a lot.

However, images from the Hubble Space Telescope confirmed that a „burp” from within Betelguse unleashed a mass ejection that turned into a cloud of dust that obscured some of the star's brightness as seen from Earth.

'Ring of Fire'

Betelgeuse was back in the news very briefly in December last year, when an asteroid eclipsed it for about 12 seconds. In an extremely rare night sky event, asteroid 319 caused a narrow „ring of fire” annular eclipse across the star Leona.

One day, Betelgeuse will explode A type IIP supernova, becomes exceptionally bright, leaving behind a neutron star. As such, it can shine as brightly as a full moon for a few months before effectively fading to the naked eye. Although it is visible during the day, it is a spectacular sight at night. However, for that, Betelgeuse must go „supernova” between December and April. If the red supergiant star is going to explode, let's hope it happens soon—below the post-sunset horizon and before the Sun's glare.

Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.

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