Betelgeuse --The Red Supergiant 100,000 Times Brighter than Our Sun: An Emerging Supernova
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July 21, 2013

Betelgeuse --The Red Supergiant 100,000 Times Brighter than Our Sun: An Emerging Supernova

 

 

Betelgeuse_Herschel_display

At over 600 light years away Betelgeuse, a "red supergiant" star which is nearing the end of its life, is not particularly close, but it shines 100,000 times as brightly as our Sun. As it has swelled in size over the past few hundred thousand years, currently measuring around 1000 times the size of our Sun, the massive star has been shedding its outer layers. This material is made of gas and dust, which has cooled over time and is seen here in far-infrared light by Herschel.

The immediate surroundings of Betelgeuse look much brighter than the regions further out, implying that around 30,000 years ago the star starting shedding mass at a higher rate. The structure in this "inner envelope" around the star is also assymetric, suggesting that the material has not been flowing out from the star in a uniform way.

As dramatic as this image looks, Betelgeuse has a far more exciting future in store. It weighs in at between 10 and 20 times the mass of our Sun, and such massive stars live fast and die young. Betelgeuse is only around 10 million years old - a tiny fraction of the Sun's 5 billion years - but is very much in the twilight of its life. At some point in the next million years or so (a blink of an eye in astronomical terms!) the core of the star will run out of fuel, at which point Betelgeuse will die in one of the most violent events in nature - a supernova.

The ejected outer layers of the star expanded outwards until they hit the surrounding material, creating the arc-like structures seen to the left of the image. These arcs are a bow shock, similar to the wave that travels in front of a ship moving through water, and are caused by Betelgeuse's motion through the surrounding gas cloud at around 30 km/s (70,000 mph).

 

           Betelgeuse_Herschel_large_annot

 

Further to the left is what appears to be a straight wall of gas and dust, the origin of which is uncertain. It is very hard to measure distances in images such as this, so the wall could be much futher away or closer to Earth than Betelgeuse - essentially in the foreground or background.

It may be material that was shed by Betelgeuse at an earlier stage - and so has had longer to travel outwards - but it is then hard to explain why it is so straight. It appears to be made of gas and dust of the same composition as the arcs around Betelgeuse, but is slightly cooler, at around -210 Celsius.

Another possibility is that it is just a part of the cloud that Betelgeuse is moving through, and which is being illuminated by the star's own starlight. If that is the case, and it really is in Betelgeuse's path, then in around 5000 years the arcs around Betelgeuse will plough into it, and in around 20,000 years the star itself will follow. But don't worry for the star - the gas clouds are incredibly thin, so such a collision would have no impact Betelgeuse itself.

The Daily Galaxy via http://herschel.cf.ac.uk/

Comments

Betelgeuse, a Red super-giant that is going super nova; although it would be 600 years after the fact that we would be aware of its demise. Betelgeuse, is a young thing that lives fast and dies young, not unlike people who die at a young age; for not everyone lives to be a ripe old age. The wall of dust and gas that the super giant is near, relatively, is hard to calculate is due to the fact that we are looking at a scene that has dimensions in a medium that is flat. I believe that in order to see the universe in its full glory we need to develop holographic technology so we can see things like Betelgeuse in its glory separating the shaft from the wheat.

What is the likely impact on Earth -- and humans -- of such a relatively close super-nova?

If 'asymmetric' is anti-symmetric, is 'assymetric' the metric of your ass?

I hope you don't get money out of writing like this.

nice to see the picture


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