Betelguese may still explode as scientists record proof of it dimmingFebruary 22, 2020
Astronomers are continuing to record the strange dimming of one of the most well-known stars in the night sky.
Betelguese, in the constellation of Orion, started exhibiting some strange behaviour towards the end of last year.
Astronomers noticed it was getting fainter and this led to speculation it could explode in a fiery supernova that would be visible from Earth even though Betelguese is 700 light years away.
Following the dimming last year, astronomers trained the European Southern Observatory (ESO) Very Large Telescope array in Chile to get a closer look. They have confirmed in much greater detail the level of dimming present in the star.
The observations show it has dimmed to just 36 per cent of its usual brightness in the past few months, something experts say you could expect to see before a star explodes.
Villanova University astronomer, Edward Guinan says the star is nearing the end of its life and it would shrink and collapse before rebounding in an explosion if it were to go supernova.
Supergiant star Betelguese may still explode
Betelguese is a red supergiant star and if it were to go supernova, we would see it from Earth during both daytime and night where it would appear as bright as the moon. However, astronomers say this could just as likely happen in 100,000 years as it could tomorrow.
A team led by Belgian astronomer Miguel Montargès have been using the telescope since December to try and understand why the star is fainter than at any time since records began.
The same instrument they used to take the photo of the surface in December 2019 also captured it in January 2019 and the two images show a remarkable change in the star, says Montargès.
‘The two scenarios we are working on are a cooling of the surface due to exceptional stellar activity or dust ejection towards us,’ says Montargès.
‘Of course, our knowledge of red supergiants remains incomplete, and this is still a work in progress, so a surprise can still happen.’
Betelgeuse will explode – it’s just a matter of when – it’s at the end of its life and is due to end in a supernova event, astronomer Dave Eagle explained.
‘The statistical likelihood of this event occurring during your 90 (give or a take a few years) year lifetime is extremely small,’ he said.
Meanwhile, science writer Jason Major, said it is unlikely to happen but speculated about the idea of a nearby supernova for scientists is like ‘imagining what you’d do with the money if you won the lottery’.