Did Betelgeuse Consume a Smaller Star?

The red supergiant Betelgeuse. Its activity can be confounding, and new research suggests that the star could've consumed a smaller companion star. Image credit: Hubble Space Telescope. Image Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/E. O’Gorman/P. Kervella

What’s going on with Betelgeuse? In recent years it’s generated a lot of headlines as its luminosity has shifted dramatically several times. The red supergiant brightened by almost 50% earlier this year, triggering speculation that it may go supernova.

But new research suggests there’s something completely different happening with Betelgeuse that has nothing to do with its recent fluctuations. It may have consumed a smaller companion star.

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This Star Killed its Companion and is now Escaping the Milky Way

Tauris argues that a lopsided supernova explosion may be the source of certain hypervelocity stars (image credit: IsiacDaGraca).

Our universe is capable of some truly frightening scenarios, and in this case we have an apparent tragedy: two stars, lifelong companions, decide to move away from the Milky Way galaxy together. But after millions of years of adventure into intergalactic space, one star murders and consumes the other. It now continues its journey through the universe alone, much brighter than before, surrounded by a shell of leftover remnants.

At least, we think. All we have to go on right now is a crime scene.

Let’s investigate.

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