Betelgeuse—a gigantic star in the final stages of its life—has been acting weird lately, exhibiting dramatic drops in brightness. New research attributes enormous star spots to Betelgeuse’s flaky appearance, though on a scale never seen before.

New research set for publication in The Astrophysical Journal Letters (preprint available here) connects dramatic luminosity drops on Betelgeuse to gigantic blemishes within its photosphere, the portion of a star’s surface that shines brightly. These dim, cool spots on Betelgeuse are reminiscent of sunspots, but they cover as much as 50% to 70% of the dying star’s surface. The new research was led by astronomer Thavisha Dharmawardena from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy.

Betelgeuse is a red supergiant star located about 650 light-years from Earth. Set in the Orion constellation, it’s easily visible to the naked eye. A mind-boggingly big star, Betelgeuse has the mass of 11 Suns and a diameter equal to about 1,700 Suns lined up in a row). If you placed Betelgeuse at the center of our solar system, it would extend all the way out to Jupiter’s orbit. Wow.

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betelgeuse, stars, astronomy, astrophysics, science

 


Hard to imagine a sun as big as 1,700 of our suns fading, and not causing ripple effects.

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