Space & Astronomy
What caused the 'great dimming' of Betelgeuse?
By T.K. Randall
June 18, 2021 · 4 comments
Is Betelgeuse getting ready to explode ? Image Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0 Rogelio Bernal Andreo
Scientists have finally determined exactly what caused the enormous star to dim so significantly back in 2019.
The red supergiant, which can be found in the constellation Orion, is certainly no stranger to changes in intensity having been going through periods of dimming and brightening for thousands of years.
More recently however, a particularly notable period of low intensity had led scientists to speculate that it may be about to go supernova - producing a monstrous explosion of stellar proportions.
Now at last, a precise explanation for this 'great dimming' - as it has become known - has finally been determined, and as it turns out, it was not caused by Betelgeuse going supernova.
Instead, it was all to do with how red supergiant stars expand outwards and lose mass during the final stages of their lives - expelling dust and gas in large quantities out into space.
"We have directly witnessed the formation of so-called stardust," said study co-author Miguel Montarges from the Observatoire de Paris, France.
This process ultimately obscured our view of the star, blocking its light and making it appear dimmer.
"This process generated a dense southern dust cloud that temporarily blocked much of Betelgeuse's light, giving us what we saw as the great dimming," said astronomer Emily M. Levesque from the University of Washington.
Of course Betelgeuse will explode eventually, however it might not be for another 100,000 years.
When it does happen though, it will certainly be a worthy spectacle.
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