Hubble sees supergiant Betelgeuse slowly recovering after blowing its top

Following the titanic mass ejection of a large piece of its visible surface. The escaping material cooled to form a cloud of dust that temporarily made the star look dimmer, as seen from Earth. This unprecedented stellar convulsion disrupted the monster star’s 400-day-long oscillation period that astronomers had measured for more than 200 years. The interior may now be jiggling like a plate of gelatin dessert. Credit: NASA, ESA, Elizabeth Wheatley (STScI)

Analyzing data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and several other observatories, astronomers have concluded that the bright red supergiant star Betelgeuse quite literally blew its top in 2019, losing a substantial part of its visible surface and producing a gigantic Surface Mass Ejection (SME). This is something never before seen in a normal star’s behavior.

The sun routinely blows off parts of its tenuous outer atmosphere, the corona, in an event known as a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME). But the Betelgeuse SME blasted off 400 billion times as much mass as a typical CME.

The monster star is still slowly recovering from this catastrophic upheaval. “Betelgeuse continues doing some very unusual things right now; the interior is sort of bouncing,” says Andrea Dupree of the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian.

These new observations yield clues as to how red stars lose mass late in their lives as their nuclear fusion furnaces burn out, before exploding as supernovae. The amount of mass loss significantly affects their fate. However, Betelgeuse’s surprisingly petulant behavior is not evidence the star is about to blow up anytime soon. So the mass loss event is not necessarily the signal of an imminent explosion

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The titanic outburst in 2019 was possibly caused by a convective plume, more than a million miles across, bubbling up from deep inside the star. It produced shocks and pulsations that blasted off the chunk of the photosphere leaving the star with a large cool surface area under the dust cloud that was produced by the cooling piece of photosphere. Betelgeuse is now struggling to recover from this injury.

Weighing roughly several times as much as our moon, the fractured piece of photosphere sped off into space and cooled to form a that blocked light from the star as seen by Earth observers. The dimming, which began in late 2019 and lasted for a few months, was easily noticeable even by backyard observers watching the star change brightness. One of the brightest stars in the sky, Betelgeuse is easily found in the right shoulder of the constellation Orion.

Even more fantastic, the supergiant’s 400-day pulsation rate is now gone, perhaps at least temporarily. For almost 200 years astronomers have measured this rhythm as evident in changes in Betelgeuse’s brightness variations and surface motions. Its disruption attests to the ferocity of the blowout.

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Betelgeuse is now so huge now that if it replaced the sun at the center of our solar system, its outer surface would extend past the orbit of Jupiter. Dupree used Hubble to resolve hot spots on the star’s in 1996. This was the first direct image of a star other than the sun.

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Source: Hubble sees supergiant Betelgeuse slowly recovering after blowing its top

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