Wow, Betelgeuse Might Be 25% Closer than Previously Believed

The red supergiant Betelgeuse. Image Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/E. O’Gorman/P. Kervella

In the last year, Betelgeuse has experienced two episodes of dimming. Normally, it’s one of the ten brightest stars in the sky, and astrophysicists and astronomers got busy trying to understand what was happening with the red supergiant. Different research came up with some possible answers: Enormous starspots, a build-up of dust, pre-supernova convulsions.

Now a new study is introducing another wrinkle into our understanding of Betelgeuse. The authors say that Betelgeuse is both smaller and closer than previously thought.

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Betelgeuse Probably Dimmed Because of Enormous Starspots

An artist's impression of Betelgeuse. Its surface is covered by large star spots, which reduce its brightness. During their pulsations, such stars regularly release gas into their surroundings, which condenses into dust. Image Credit: MPIA graphics department

A few months ago we all watched as Betelgeuse dimmed. Between October 2019 and 22nd of February 2020 the star’s brightness dropped by a factor of about three. It went from magnitude 0.5, and from being the tenth-brightest star in the sky, to magnitude 1.7.

Naturally, we all wondered what was happening. Would it go supernova? Even though that was extremely unlikely, how could we help but wonder?

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Waiting for Betelgeuse: What’s Up with the Tempestuous Star?

Betelgeuse
Orion rising on December 21, 2019 with yellow-red Betelgeuse at upper centre reportedly dimmer than usual as it drops to one of its occasional dim episodes as a long-period variable star. It is a red supergiant that varies between 0.0 and +1.3 magnitude. rrThis is a stack of 6 x 1-minute tracked exposures plus a single exposure through the Kenko Softon A filter to add the star glows. All on the iOptron Sky Guider Pro and with the stock Canon 6D MkII and 35mm lens at f/2.8. Taken from home in Alberta on a partly cloudy and foggy night.

Have you noticed that Orion the Hunter—one of the most iconic and familiar of the wintertime constellations—is looking a little… different as of late? The culprit is its upper shoulder star Alpha Orionis, aka Betelgeuse, which is looking markedly faint, the faintest it has been for the 21st century.

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