ESO Very Large Telescope views Betelgeuse before and after it dimmed

Shane McGlaun - Feb 17, 2020, 7:17 am CST
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ESO Very Large Telescope views Betelgeuse before and after it dimmed

Scientists have been studying a distant star called Betelgeuse, which is a red supergiant star in the constellation Orion. Using the Very Large Telescope (VLT), the ESO has been able to take images that compare the star before and after it began to dim late last year. As of now, Betelgeuse is about 36% of its usual brightness, which is a change that is noticeable with the naked eye.

Scientists have wanted to find out more about what is causing the star to dim. Using the VLT, a team of astronomers has been observing the star to understand why it’s becoming fainter in the sky. The images seen here were snapped by the team using the SPHERE instrument. The same instrument snapped an image of Betelgeuse in January 2019 before it began to dim, allowing comparison of changes in the star.

Some astronomy enthusiasts think that the star is getting ready to explode into a supernova, but scientists don’t think so. All red supergiant stars will explode into supernovas one day. The images are side by side in the main picture above and show the star in visible light. What can clearly be seen in the images is how much dimmer the star is and that the star is changing shape.

The team has two main scenarios they are working on right now. One scenario is that the star is cooling due to “exceptional stellar activity or a dust ejection towards us.” The team admits that neither of those scenarios may be correct.

The team also obtained a new image using the VISIR instrument that shows infrared light emitted by the dust surrounding the star in December 2019. The team says that the clouds of dust that resemble flames in the VISIR images are formed when a star sheds material back into space. Scientists note that red supergiant stars shed material into space throughout their lifetime.


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