Mystery of the dimming of massive star Betelgeuse explained

By Will Dunham WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Astronomers have determined the cause of the dramatic dimming observed last year and earlier this year of one of the brightest stars in the night sky, a colossus called Betelgeuse that appears to be on its way toward a violent death. Based on Hubble Space Telescope observations, scientists said they believe Betelgeuse ejected a huge hot, dense cloud of material into space that cooled to form dust, shielding the star's light and making it appear dimmer from the perspective of viewers on Earth. Betelgeuse is classified as a red supergiant, the largest type of star.

Reuters August 15, 2020 02:10:16 IST
Mystery of the dimming of massive star Betelgeuse explained

Mystery of the dimming of massive star Betelgeuse explained

By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Astronomers have determined the cause of the dramatic dimming observed last year and earlier this year of one of the brightest stars in the night sky, a colossus called Betelgeuse that appears to be on its way toward a violent death.

Based on Hubble Space Telescope observations, scientists said they believe Betelgeuse ejected a huge hot, dense cloud of material into space that cooled to form dust, shielding the star's light and making it appear dimmer from the perspective of viewers on Earth.

Betelgeuse is classified as a red supergiant, the largest type of star. It is more than 10 times the mass of our sun. If it resided at the center of our solar system, its surface would extend to the planet Jupiter.

Scientists suspect Betelgeuse - pronounced "beetle juice" - is nearing the end of its life cycle when it will use up its nuclear fuel and explode, relatively soon in cosmic terms, in an event known as a supernova.

"Frankly, we don't know for sure how soon Betelgeuse will go supernova," astrophysicist Andrea Dupree, director of the Solar Stellar Planetary Sciences Division at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and leader of the research published this week in the Astrophysical Journal, said on Friday.

"It is likely not in our lifetimes. But, we do not know how a star behaves the week before, the night before it explodes," Dupree added.

In a supernova, huge stars like Betelgeuse expel large amounts of heavy elements, including carbon, oxygen, calcium and iron, into space that become building blocks of new generations of stars.

Betelgeuse is located relatively near our solar system, about 725 light-years away. A light year is the distance light travels in a year, 5.9 trillion miles (9.5 trillion km).

Its dimming began last October and by mid-February had lost more than two-thirds of its brilliance. It returned to its usual brilliance by April but may be dimming again, which researchers are working to confirm.

(Reporting by Will Dunham; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Updated Date:

TAGS:

also read

France, Germany to agree to NATO role against Islamic State - sources
| Reuters
World

France, Germany to agree to NATO role against Islamic State - sources | Reuters

By Robin Emmott and John Irish | BRUSSELS/PARIS BRUSSELS/PARIS France and Germany will agree to a U.S. plan for NATO to take a bigger role in the fight against Islamic militants at a meeting with President Donald Trump on Thursday, but insist the move is purely symbolic, four senior European diplomats said.The decision to allow the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to join the coalition against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq follows weeks of pressure on the two allies, who are wary of NATO confronting Russia in Syria and of alienating Arab countries who see NATO as pushing a pro-Western agenda."NATO as an institution will join the coalition," said one senior diplomat involved in the discussions. "The question is whether this just a symbolic gesture to the United States

China's Xi says navy should become world class
| Reuters
World

China's Xi says navy should become world class | Reuters

BEIJING Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday called for greater efforts to make the country's navy a world class one, strong in operations on, below and above the surface, as it steps up its ability to project power far from its shores.China's navy has taken an increasingly prominent role in recent months, with a rising star admiral taking command, its first aircraft carrier sailing around self-ruled Taiwan and a new aircraft carrier launched last month.With President Donald Trump promising a US shipbuilding spree and unnerving Beijing with his unpredictable approach on hot button issues including Taiwan and the South and East China Seas, China is pushing to narrow the gap with the U.S. Navy.Inspecting navy headquarters, Xi said the navy should "aim for the top ranks in the world", the Defence Ministry said in a statement about his visit."Building a strong and modern navy is an important mark of a top ranking global military," the ministry paraphrased Xi as saying.