Betelgeuse first drew attention in late 2019 when the star, which shines like a red gem at the top of Orion’s right shoulder, experienced an unexpected darkening. The giant continued to grow bleak in 2020.
Some scientists have speculated that the star will explode as a supernova, and have been trying to determine what happened to it since.
Now, astronomers have analyzed data from the Hubble Space Telescope and other observatories, and they believe the star has been ejected by a giant surface mass, losing much of its visible surface.
“We’ve never before seen a massive mass ejection from the surface of a star,” said Andrea Dupree, an astrophysicist at the Center for Astrophysics. “We let something happen that we didn’t fully understand.” Harvard and Smithsonian in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in a statement.
“It’s a completely new phenomenon that we can directly observe and solve for surface detail using Hubble. We’re watching the evolution of stars in real time.”
Our sun is regularly subjected to coronal mass ejection as the star releases portions of its outer atmosphere, known as the corona. If this space weather hits Earth, it could have an impact on satellite-based communications and power grids.
But the surface mass release Betelgeuse was launched A mass more than 400 billion times the mass of a typical coronal ejection from the Sun.
Observing Betelgeuse and its unusual behavior has allowed astronomers to see what is happening late in the star’s life.
When Betelgeuse burns the fuel in its heart, it swells to gigantic proportions, becoming a red giant. The massive star is 1 billion miles (1.6 billion km) in diameter.
Eventually, the star will explode in a supernova, an event that can be seen for a brief period during the day on Earth. Meanwhile, the star is having some fiery tantrums.
The amount of mass that stars lose late in their lives when they burn up through nuclear fusion can affect their survival, But even losing a significant amount of its surface mass isn’t a sign that Betelgeuse is ready to explode, according to astronomers.
Astronomers like Dupree have studied how the star behaves before, during, and after the eruption Trying to understand what happened.
Scientists believe that the convective plume, which extends more than a million miles (1.6 million kilometers), originated from the star’s interior. The plume caused shocks and pulsations that led to a volcanic eruption, exfoliating a portion of the star’s outer mantle called the photosphere.
Betelgeuse’s photosphere, which weighs several times the weight of the Moon, was launched into space. As the mass cooled, it formed a large dust cloud that obscured the star’s light when seen through telescopes on Earth.
Betelgeuse is one of the brightest stars in Earth’s night sky, so its dimming – which lasted for a few months – was noticeable during Observatories and backyard telescopes alike.
Recovering from the explosion
Astronomers have measured the rhythm of Betelgeuse for 200 years. This star’s pulse is essentially a faint, bright cycle that restarts every 400 days. This pulsing has stopped for the time being – a testament to how important the volcanic eruption is.
Dupree thinks that the star’s internal convective cells driving the pulse still resonate from the explosion and compared them to an unbalanced washer-sump blast.
telescope data He showed that the star’s outer layer has returned to normal as Betelgeuse slowly recovers, but its surface remains pulsating while the photosphere is rebuilt.
“Betelgeuse continues to do some very unusual things right now,” Dupree said. “The inside is kind of a recoil.”
Astronomers have never seen a star lose so much of its visible surface before, suggesting that surface mass ejections and coronal mass ejections could be two very different things.
Researchers will have more follow-up opportunities to observe the mass ejected from the star using the James Webb Space Telescope, which can reveal additional evidence through invisible infrared light.