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Astronomers Have Solved The ‘Great Dimming Of Betelgeuse’

by : Daniel Richardson on : 16 Jun 2021 19:42
PA Images/Pixabay

Astronomers have discovered what the cause of the ‘great dimming of Betelgeuse’ is.

The Betelguese star can be seen within the constellation of Orion. In late 2019 and early 2020, its bright light started dimming, so astronomers began investigating the red supergiant as some theorised it may explode as part of its lifecycle.

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Astronomers at the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile have now determined the star is not meeting quite such a dramatic end.

Orion (PA Images)PA Images

Instead, our view of Betelgeuse is being obstructed by a giant dust cloud that lies between Earth and the star. In an attempt to investigate the dimming star, the European Southern Observatory’s VLT, which is one of the most powerful telescopes on Earth, was used. This allowed the researchers to model the behaviour and pinpoint what had happened.

There were two dominant theories. One hypothesis was that there was a large cool spot on the star because red giants are known to have uneven temperatures. The second theory was that a dust cloud was obstructing the view of the star. However, it seems that both theories have proved to be relevant to the dimming star.

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Emily Cannon from KU (Katholieke Universiteit) Leuven in Belgium told BBC News:

Our overall idea is that there was a cool spot on the star which, because of the local drop in temperature, then caused gas ejected previously to condense into dust.

So, the cool spot on the surface would initially make the star look dimmer to us. But then this condensation of dust would add to the rapid drop in brightness of the star.

OrionPA Images

Reflecting on the situation with the star, Cannon said:

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I don’t think this event means Betelgeuse is going to go supernova anytime soon, even though that would be incredibly interesting and I was kind of wishing it myself!

We know that red supergiants can display increased mass loss rates, which may indicate there’s a later stage in their lives when they are more likely to go supernova. But Betelgeuse we think is a relatively young red supergiant and it probably has a lot more time left.

It seems those hoping to see a supernova explosion will have a while to wait. Particularly, as the last visible case was seen in the year 1604.

With that said, this incident involving the Kepler’s Star, in our Milky Way Galaxy, was visible for three weeks, so when it does happen there should be plenty of time to take a look.

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Daniel Richardson

After graduating from university, Dan went on to work with a variety of tech startups and media outlets. These included the likes of The Hook, WhatCulture and Game Rant. Eventually, Dan found a home for his journalism at UNILAD.

Topics: Science, Now, Space, Tech

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BBC News
  1. BBC News

    'Great Dimming' of Betelgeuse star is solved