A massive star that’s been documented by astronomers is about to send its components away, after a sudden dimming.
Experts suggested that Betelgeuse, a gigantic red star located on the left side of the constellation Orion, is about to explode after it became fainter by approximately a factor of two. This change has never been registered before, and it left scientists to wonder.
“We know that it’s the dimmest it’s been observed ever, based on the data we have,” said Stella Kafka, chief executive officer of the American Association of Variable Star Observers.
What makes this progress captivating is that the space object is prone to explode into an intriguing manner, namely a supernova. Astronomers believe the event will take place quite soon, in terms of astronomical time, which could be any time between tomorrow and 100,000 years from now.
The Reason Behind its Dimming Process
When Betelgeuse explodes into a supernova, scientists suggest it will be as bright as the full moon, and everyone will get to see it during the day. Unfortunately, due to the fact that Betelgeuse is a massive red star covered in a cloud of dust and gas, it is almost impossible to describe it.
However, scientists have managed to get some estimations, setting it between 425 and 650 light-years away, with a mass of about ten times that of the Sun. The star is huge as well, perhaps 1,400 times larger than our Sun, able to swallow all the inner planets, such as Earth, Mars, and even Jupiter, if it were to be located in the Sun’s place. It is also estimated to be approximately 14,000 times more bright than our star.
Betelgeuse is a variable star as well, which means its brightness increases and decreases regularly. However, it was never seen like this.
“Maybe 300 years ago, Betelgeuse was dimmer than what we’re observing now, but we don’t have data,” Kafka said.
Orion rising on Dec 21 with apparently a dimmer #Betelgeuse at top centre as the red supergiant undergoes one of its fading episodes. @universetoday @skyatnightmag @SkyNewsMagazine @SkyandTelescope @AstronomyMag @SPACEdotcom pic.twitter.com/UO8YzvB45d
— Alan Dyer (@amazingskyguy) December 22, 2019
The reason behind the periodical dimming is unknown, but one of the probabilities is that, similar to our Sun, it has cooler and hotter sides. If one of the cooler parts ended up into our sight, it could be a reason why the star seems dimmer.
“I don’t even know if that’s the dimmest it’s going to get. This is an event that has been evolving,” Kafka explained. “We’re still in the middle of it. Well, we’re still actually at the beginning of it. These kinds of massive stars move slowly. They take their sweet time.”
A History of Supernovas
Astronomers discover supernovas quite often, scattered all over the galaxies. The last one that took place in our galaxy, and may have been noticed from Earth, was Cassiopeia A, back in 1680.
Experts believe that supernovas happen in galaxies like ours approximately every 100 years, even though that doesn’t mean we can see them all. They could take place on the other side of the galaxy, or get hidden from view.
An example of this is a research published in 2008 that identified the leftovers of a supernova in the Milky Way. The even was dated back to 140 years ago, and it was not visible, as it happened close to the core of the galaxy and was hid by as and dust clouds.
If Betelgeuse were to explode, Kafka said there is no reason to panic as it would perhaps only deliver a blow of radiation.