Betelgeuse may be smaller and closer to the Earth than previously believed

Shane McGlaun - Oct 18, 2020, 11:55am CDT
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Betelgeuse may be smaller and closer to the Earth than previously believed

Of all the stars in the sky, one in the strangest is known as Betelgeuse. Eventually, the star will die in a supernova explosion, but that could be another 100,000 years away. Scientists have been studying the star intently since late 2019, when the star dipped in brightness on two separate occasions. Typically, Betelgeuse is one of the brightest stars in the sky.

The repeated dimming of the star led scientists to speculate that it may be near to going supernova. However, a new study has been published that offers an alternative to an impending supernova as the reason why the star has dimmed. Researchers say that the first dimming invent involved in a cloud of dust and the second smaller dimming event was likely due to the star’s pulsations.

Researchers learned more about the physics behind pulsations gaining a clearer idea of Betelgeuse’s phase of life, using hydrodynamic and seismic modeling. Dr. Shing-Chi Leung from the University of Tokyo, and co-author of the study, said that the team has confirmed pressure waves, which are essentially sound waves, caused Betelgeuse’s pulsation.

The study lead, Dr. Meredith Joyce from the Australian National University, says that the star is burning helium in its core at the moment, meaning it’s nowhere near a supernova. She says that it could be around 100,000 years before a supernova happens. Another researcher on the project says that the physical size of Betelgeuse has been a mystery, with the earlier studies suggesting it could be bigger than the orbit of Jupiter.

The team’s study found Betelgeuse only extends out to two-thirds of that size with radius 750 times that of the sun. Once the team had a physical size for the star, they could determine the distance from Earth. That result shows that Betelgeuse is 530 light-years away, making it 25 percent closer than previously believed. That still far enough away that the inevitable supernova explosion will have no significant impact on our planet.


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