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article imageIs Betelgeuse about to go supernova?

By Tim Sandle     Jan 11, 2020 in Science
Astronomers have noted that the star Betelgeuse is becoming less bright, appearing especially faint in the night sky. The dimming represents the biggest dip in brightness of a star yet recorded. Is this the beginning of the end?
Located within the Orion constellation, Betelgeuse is a red supergiant star. At one point in astronomical history it was one of the largest stars ever discovered, although this status has since been surpassed. Nevertheless, Betelgeuse is one of the few names of astronomical objects that has crossed into public consciousness (not least because the star is one of the brightest stars in the night sky).
The star is a distinctly reddish, semiregular variable star whose apparent magnitude varies between +0.0 and +1.3, the widest range of any known first-magnitude star. The star is located an estimated 642 light-years away from Earth.
Of concern to astronomers is the dimming of the star with Betelgeuse reportedly having faded by up to one full magnitude. Less is known about red supergiants and how long they burn for. Such stars do not last as long as stars like our Sun, because they burn their nuclear fuel much faster.
However, the star is known for going through strange and somewhat unpredictable cycles of varying light intensity.
Discussed by, there are two schools of thought in relation to the future of the star. The first is that Betelgeuse is simply part way through a variable cycle of brightness and it will become brighter again. Some astronomers speculate that the change in brightness could be due to some sort of eruption of gas or dust, or changes in the star’s surface brightness.
The second line of reasoning is that Betelgeuse is dying, and the end result will be a supernova. The general media have picked up on this point, indicating that the star could soon explode. However, while red supergiants generally end up exploding this cosmic event is less likely to happen any time soon – perhaps within another few hundred thousand years (although this is relatively soon in astronomical terms).
With a supernova, according to Popular Science: “Once they run out of helium and hydrogen as fuel, they start to build up heavier elements in their cores, causing them to implode and grow increasingly hot and dense. Ultimately, the reaction forces the star to split its outer layers out into space.”
The research has been published on the website Astronomer’s Telegram as a white paper. The paper is titled “The Fainting of the Nearby Supergiant Betelgeuse”.
More about Betelgeuse, Stars, Supernova, Astronomy
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