Extraordinary celestial events beyond our comprehension take place every single second in our universe, and we just have to look up to witness a few at least.
Well, scientists searching for such astonishing stellar events had serendipitously captured a mysterious dimming of a red giant – Betelgeuse.
Betelgeuse is one of the brightest glowing stars of the night sky, situated in the Orion constellation some 724 light-years away from earth, its dimming phenomenon made scientists speculate that the star was about to attain supernova. But it only remained as speculation.
From January 2019 to March 2020 the researchers captured the images of Betelgeuse showing different levels of brightness that led to a supernova of speculations among scientists about the dimming of the star.
Based on the gathered data, the scientists said that the surface on the southern hemisphere of Betelgeuse had cooled and set off a cloud of dust which had blocked the star’s light temporarily, reducing its brightness.
The images were captured using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile for a time span of more than a year.
“This is the best interpretation we can get with the data that we have without flying our spaceship to Betelgeuse and seeing what’s going on there,” said astrophysicist Emily Cannon of KU Leuven in Belgium.
The team began capturing the moments in January 2019 and witnessed a 35% drop in its brightness and continued till March 2020 before recovering back.
The report was published in the journal Nature, Betelgeuse is 900 times bigger than our Sun (If it’s placed in our solar system, its surface would reach Jupiter, consuming all 4 planets before).
The team had modeled the outer layers of the red supergiant using computer simulations to find the answers to the dimming.
And the recent research report by Montargès et al provides a strong explanation for Betelgeuse’s dimming phenomenon.
According to Montargès’s report, Betelgeuse is in its final evolutionary stage of a star which lasts for about 100,000 years, this is the stage where the red giants lose most of their mass.
Between November 2019 to March 2020, this red giant had undergone changes that were visible from earth.
In this event, referred to as ‘Betelgeuse’s Great Dimming,’ it had its brightness reduced to 1.614±0.008 magnitude between the 7th and 13th of February, 2020 that was 35% lesser than its usual 0.1 and 1.0 magnitude of its intensity.
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The dimming was mainly observed in its southern hemisphere where a cloud of dust had formed due to a decrease in temperature in the photosphere. And the star was back to its usual brightness once the cloud of dust was cleared.
But a few astronomers aren’t fully convinced about a cloud of dust being part of the equation.
“This discussion will continue till we obtain direct evidence for dust,” said astrophysicist Thavisha Dharmawardena, Max Plank Institute for Astronomy, Heidelberg, Germany.
The study may help scientists to understand more about the birth and death of stars. But Betelgeuse won’t be undergoing supernova any time soon in our lifetime, Montagès stated.