Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Oh, Wow! Betelgeuse Has a Couple of Really Hot Spots

"Spots Like the Sun's Revealed on Giant Star " (January 12, 2010)

"A snapshot taken of a giant star hundreds of light-years from Earth has revealed two enormous bright spots - the first direct evidence of sun-like heat transportation on another star, scientists say.

"The new infrared view shows the behemoth star Betelgeuse with two bright blotches near its center. The bright spots are hotter than the surrounding area, indicating regions of convection where heat rises from the interior of the star to its surface, just like on the sun.

"The convection may play a role in Betelgeuse's known and prolific weight loss, researchers said. The star is shedding the equivalent of one sun's worth of mass every 10,000 to 100,000 years. It is also expelling a gigantic plume of hot gas that may be related to the convection, researchers said...."

"...'The situation on Betelgeuse seems pretty much different than in the case of the sun,' said astronomer Guy Perrin, a co-leader of the research team at the Paris Observatory. 'The convective cells are far much larger.'

"The bright spots, like the star itself, are also vast, with the larger of the two spanning of more than 139 million miles – 1 1/2 times the distance between the Earth and our sun, researchers said. This larger spot is about one-quarter the star's diameter, they added. Similar spots on the sun are about one-twentieth the width of the star...."

This is exciting for several reasons.

Betelgeuse is so close (roughly 640 light years - yes, that's 'close' by some standards), and so huge, that it's among the few stars we're able to see as disks. Or, more accurately, get our telescopes to resolve as disks. Which means that Betelgeuse is one of the few stars we're able to compare our star to.

There's a very good possibility that Betelgeuse will become a supernova soon: and we'll have grandstand seats: close enough for a good view, but not so close that we'll get fried.

Exact timing is anyone's guess. We haven't had a chance to observe a supernova before it lit up the sky before. There's a whole lot that we don't know about supernovae. (January 5, 2010)

So, sometime between later tonight and a few thousand years from now: Betelgeuse will explode with a flash that will probably be visible from other galaxies.

And we'll be close enough for a really, really good view.

But there's nothing to worry about.


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