Betelgeuse Is not Exploding: Mysterious Dimming Turns Out to Be Big Mud Sneeze

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The official verdict is in. Because the crimson supergiant Betelgeuse as soon as once more returns to regular brightness ranges, astronomers have taken the star’s temperature to determine the reason for its current dimming.


It seems the star wasn’t fluctuating internally; relatively, Betelgeuse sneezed out an enormous cloud of mud, which obscured its mild for some time.

Because of this the star is not, as some had hoped, about to go supernova; in reality, it is a fairly well-understood occasion for a star of Betelgeuse’s superior age.

“We see this on a regular basis in crimson supergiants, and it is a regular a part of their life cycle,” stated astronomer Emily Levesque of the College of Washington.

“Pink supergiants will sometimes shed materials from their surfaces, which is able to condense across the star as mud. Because it cools and dissipates, the mud grains will take in a number of the mild heading towards us and block our view.”

Betelgeuse caught the eye of astronomers late final 12 months when it began plummeting in brightness. Between September 2019 and January 2020, its brightness dimmed considerably – sufficient to be noticeable with the bare eye.

This prompted a little bit of a kerfuffle. As a result of Betelgeuse – solely about 700 light-years away, within the constellation of Orion – is among the brightest stars within the sky. It’s totally previous, for its variety – round eight to eight.5 million years previous. In actual fact, it is within the last levels of its lifespan: Betelgeuse is dying.


The traditional star’s main-sequence days of fusing hydrogen in its core are achieved; it ran out of hydrogen a while in the past, and is now fusing helium into carbon and oxygen.

Finally, Betelgeuse’s core will fuse heavier and heavier components, finally leading to a buildup of iron that may trigger the core to break down – and the previous star will explode in an epic supernova.

(ESO/M. Montargès et al.)

One of many indicators of such an explosion being imminent is a dramatic dimming of the star, however astronomers have predicted that Betelgeuse continues to be no less than a number of tens of 1000’s of years from the purpose of erupting right into a supernova.

So you possibly can see why its current shenanigans had everybody intrigued, particularly since its dimming was lopsided – occurring solely on part of the star.

Hypotheses included some inside convection course of that was cooling the star’s floor. (This may be fairly bizarre.) One other risk was a large cloud of mud and fuel ejected by the star because it loses mass.

Therefore, astronomers have been wanting very carefully. On February 14 this 12 months, they took observations to acquire Betelgeuse’s spectrum – a breakdown of sunshine by wavelength that may inform us so much a couple of star’s chemistry. A star akin to Betelgeuse would normally be too vivid for an in depth spectrum, however the researchers used a particular dampening approach to scale back the sunshine to a workable degree.


One of many issues a spectrum can reveal is the temperature of the star, by way of evaluation of what we all know as ‘spectral strains’. Emission strains on a spectrum point out the place mild is being emitted, whereas absorption strains point out the place it’s being absorbed; we all know that completely different components have particular strains, and these can be utilized to deduce the star’s temperature.

What the researchers have been searching for have been the absorption strains of titanium oxide, which may accumulate within the higher layers of cool big stars. Abundance of titanium oxide correlates with the temperature of the star.

In response to the abundance they discovered, Betelgeuse’s temperature is round three,325 levels Celsius (6,017 Fahrenheit). That is constant each with a measurement taken by the crew in 2004; and with a measurement of three,317 levels Celsius taken in 2011.

It is also considerably hotter than can be anticipated for convection processes.

“A comparability with our 2004 spectrum confirmed instantly that the temperature hadn’t modified considerably,” defined astronomer Phillip Massey of Lowell Observatory.

“We knew the reply needed to be mud.”

Final month, after the crew had taken their observations, Betelgeuse stopped dimming and began brightening once more. So supernova is as soon as once more off the desk, for now.

However the glinting crimson star nonetheless represents a superb alternative to study extra concerning the late levels of a large star’s lifespan, so you possibly can wager astronomers will preserve finding out it carefully.

The analysis has been accepted into The Astrophysical Journal Letters and is offered on arXiv.





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