(CNN) – The giant red giant Betelgeuse, a massive star in the constellation Orion, experienced a massive starburst that had never been seen before, according to astronomers.
Betelgeuse first drew attention in late 2019 when the star, which shines like a red gem on Orion’s upper right shoulder, underwent an unexpected dimming. The giant continued to black out in 2020.
Some scientists have speculated that the star will explode as a supernova, and have since tried to determine what happened.
Now, astronomers have analyzed data from the Hubble Space Telescope and other observatories, and they believe the star has undergone a giant surface mass ejection, losing much of its visible surface.
“We’ve never seen such a massive mass ejection from the surface of a star before,” said Andrea Duprey, an astrophysicist at the Center for Astrophysics. “We found something was going on that we didn’t fully understand.” Harvard and Smithsonian in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in a statement.
“It’s an entirely new phenomenon that we can observe and resolve surface detail directly using Hubble. We are looking at stellar evolution in real time.”
Our sun is regularly subjected to coronal mass ejections in which the star releases portions of its outer atmosphere, known as the corona. If this space weather reaches Earth, it could have an impact on satellite communications and power grids.
But the surface mass ejection of Betelgeuse released more than 400 billion times more mass than a typical coronal mass ejection from the Sun.
Observation of Betelgeuse and its unusual behavior allowed astronomers to observe what happens at the end of a star’s life.
As Betelgeuse burns the fuel in its heart, it has grown to gigantic proportions, becoming a super red giant. The massive star has a diameter of 1.6 billion km.
Eventually, the star will explode as a supernova, an event that can be seen for a brief period during the day on Earth. Meanwhile, the star is experiencing some pretty intense outbursts.
The amount of mass stars lose at the end of their lives when they burn up through nuclear fusion can affect their survival, but even losing a significant amount of their surface mass is not a sign that Betelgeuse is ready to explode. Astronomy scientists.
Astronomers like Dupree have studied how the star behaved before, during, and after the eruption in an effort to understand what happened.
Scientists believe that the heat flux, which has a diameter of more than 1.6 million kilometers, originated in the interior of the star. The flow caused shocks and pulsations that erupted, shedding a portion of the star’s outer shell called the photosphere.
The light part of Betelgeuse, which weighs several times more than the Moon, was launched into space. When it cooled, the cluster formed a large dust cloud that obscured the star’s light, observable when viewed through telescopes on Earth.
Betelgeuse is one of the brightest stars in Earth’s night sky, so its dimming, which lasted a few months, was noticeable both in observatories and backyard telescopes.
Astronomers have measured the rhythm of Betelgeuse for 200 years. This star’s pulse is essentially a cycle of dimming and brightness that repeats every 400 days. This pulsing has stopped for the time being, a testament to how important the volcanic eruption is.
Dupree thinks the convective cells inside the star that drive the pulsing still resonate from the explosion, and compares them to unbalanced washing machine pool mist.
Telescope data showed that the star’s outer shell has returned to normal as Betelgeuse slowly recovers, but its surface remains resilient as the photosphere is reconstructed.
“Betelgeuse is still doing very unusual things right now,” Dupree said. “Inside is like jumping.”
Astronomers have never before seen a star lose so much of its visible surface, suggesting that surface mass ejections and coronal mass ejections could be two very different things.
Researchers will have more opportunities to observe the star’s ejected mass using the James Webb Space Telescope, which can reveal additional evidence through invisible infrared light.