Betelgeuse’s Odd Dimming Phenomenon Finally Explained by the Hubble Space Telescope

New observations of Betelgeuse have unveiled that the star’s odd dimming periods in late 2019 and early 2020 were caused most likely by the cooling and ejection of dense hot gases. 

Between October and November 2019, the Hubble Space Telescope spotted heated, dense material progressing through Betelgeuse’s extended atmosphere at 200,000 miles/h. The next month, a bunch of ground-based telescopes spotted a diminish in brightness in the star’s southern hemisphere. 

By February 2020, Betelgeuse had lost approximately two-thirds of its brightness, a loss visible even to the naked eye. The observations continued, and now, Hubble offers a timeline for scientists to follow, like breadcrumbs leading back through time to find the odd dimming source. Here is what you need to know. 

Hubble Shows What Happened With Betelgeuse

Scientists working with the Hubble Space Telescope now have the perfect picture of what happened with Betelgeuse. Using the data collected by Hubble, they discovered how the discharged superhot plasma from Betelgeuse’s surface cooled down and eventually turned to dust.

“The resulting cloud blocked light from about a quarter of the star’s surface,” explained the ESA, adding that Betelgeuse has since returned to its normal brightness. 

Using the Hubble Space Telescope, scientists succeeded in seeing the material as it left Betelgeuse’s noticeable surface and then moved out through the atmosphere before the cloud formed. An effect of a hot, dense region in the southeast pole of the star was also spotted.

High interest surrounding Betelgeuse emerged late last year as the space object continued to lose its brightness. Such behavior made some scientists believe that the old star was about to go supernova.

Betelgeuse is around 1,000 times the size of our host star and is 725 light-years from our planet. At such a distance, light – and dimming – seen from the star today on Earth left the space object in the year 1300. The chances are that it won’t explode during our lifetime, but then again, we can’t be sure. 

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