Betelgeuse Blew Its Top Off And Scientists Have Never Seen a Star do This

Researchers have concluded from data obtained by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and several other observatories that Betelgeuse, a bright red supergiant star, blew its top in 2019 and produced a gigantic Surface Mass Ejection (SME) as a result. It is something that has never been seen in the behavior of a normal star.

Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) occur routinely when parts of the Sun’s tenuous outer atmosphere, the corona, are blown off. However, the Betelgeuse SME released 400 billion times more mass than a typical CME.

After this catastrophic upheaval, the monster star has yet to recover fully. According to Andrea Dupree of the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian in Cambridge, Massachusetts, “Betelgeuse is doing some unusual things right now; the interior is sort of bouncing.”

Several new observations reveal how red stars lose mass as their nuclear fusion furnaces burn out before their explosion as supernovae. Mass loss has a significant impact on their fate. Despite the star’s surprisingly petulant behavior, there is no evidence that Betelgeuse is about to explode anytime soon. It is therefore not necessarily indicative of an impending explosion when a mass loss occurs.

Dupree is therefore creating a novel story of a titanic convulsion that has never been seen in an aging star before, after, and during the eruption.

As part of this study, STELLA robotic observatory data, Fred L. Tillinghast Reflector Echelle Spectrograph (TRES) data from Whipple Observatory, NASA’s Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO-A) data, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope data, and AAVSO data are included. According to Dupree, a pivotal part of the mystery was solved by Hubble data.

An infographic about Betelgeuse. Depositphotos.
An infographic about Betelgeuse. Depositphotos.

“We’ve never before seen a huge mass ejection of the surface of a star. We are left with something going on that we don’t completely understand. It’s a totally new phenomenon that we can observe directly and resolve surface details with Hubble. We’re watching stellar evolution in real-time.”

More than a million miles across, a convective plume bubbled up from deep within the star, possibly causing the titanic outburst in 2019. This resulted in shocks and pulsations blasting off the photosphere chunk, leaving the star with a large surface area of cool dust underneath the dust cloud. It is now taking Betelgeuse a long time to recover from its injury.

After soaring into space, the fractured photosphere cooled into a dust cloud that blocked Earth’s view of the star. It weighed roughly several times as much as our Moon. Even backyard observers who watched the star change brightness were able to detect the dimming, which began in late 2019 and lasted a few months. Located on the right shoulder of the constellation Orion, Betelgeuse is one of the brightest stars in the sky.

The illustration shows how the brightness of Betelgeuse changed after a large chunk of its visible surface was ejected in a titanic mass ejection. As seen from Earth, the star temporarily appeared dimmer as a result of the escaping matter cooling to form a cloud of dust. Scientists have been measuring the monster star's oscillation period for more than 200 years, but this unprecedented convulsion disrupted it. Credits: NASA, ESA, Elizabeth Wheatley (STScI).
The illustration shows how the brightness of Betelgeuse changed after a large chunk of its visible surface was ejected in a titanic mass ejection. As seen from Earth, the star temporarily appeared dimmer as a result of the escaping matter cooling to form a cloud of dust. Scientists have been measuring the monster star’s oscillation period for more than 200 years, but this unprecedented convulsion disrupted it. Credits: NASA, ESA, Elizabeth Wheatley (STScI).

Additionally, the supergiant’s 400-day pulsation rate appears to have disappeared. As Betelgeuse’s brightness varies and its surface moves, astronomers have measured this rhythm for nearly 200 years. A blowout of this magnitude would result in its disruption.

There might be an imbalance in the star’s convection cells, which causes its regular pulses. TRES and Hubble spectra suggest that the outer layers may be normal, but the photosphere is still rebuilding at the surface like a gelatin plate.

Despite our Sun’s coronal mass ejections that remove small pieces of its outer atmosphere, astronomers have never observed a star’s visible surface being blasted into space in such a large amount. As a result, coronal mass ejections and surface mass ejections may be different phenomena.

If Betelgeuse replaced the Sun at the center of our solar system, its outer surface would extend beyond Jupiter’s orbit. Hot spots on the surface of the star were resolved in 1996 by Dupree using Hubble. It was the first time another star was directly imaged.

Ejected material may be detected in infrared light by NASA’s Webb Space Telescope.


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