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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Betelgeuse is Almost 50% Brighter Than Normal. What’s Going On?

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

Whenever something happens with Betelgeuse, speculations about it exploding as a supernova proliferate. It would be cool if it did. We’re far enough away to suffer no consequences, so it’s fun to imagine the sky lighting up like that for months.

Now the red supergiant star has brightened by almost 50%, and that has the speculation ramping up again.

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Astronomers Watch a Star Die and Then Explode as a Supernova

Artist's impression of a supernova. Credit: NASA

It’s another first for astronomy.

For the first time, a team of astronomers have imaged in real-time as a red supergiant star reached the end of its life. They watched as the star convulsed in its death throes before finally exploding as a supernova.

And their observations contradict previous thinking into how red supergiants behave before they blow up.

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Wow, Betelgeuse Might Be 25% Closer than Previously Believed

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

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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