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The Shocking Revelation of Betelgeuse Might Be Harboring

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The Bright Star Betelgeuse

The bright star Betelgeuse might be harboring a deep, dark secret. An artist’s illustration of a plume from the red supergiant star Betelgeuse. The giant red star Betelgeuse might be harboring a gruesome secret in its past. A new model posits that the prominent night-sky object was once two stars. Until the more massive star ate its smaller companion, and that could explain several of Betelgeuse’s peculiar properties.

Betelgeuse is a whopper of a star, with a diameter of 600 million miles (965 million kilometers). It is bigger than the orbit of Mars, according to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. At a relatively close distance of 520 light-years from Earth. Betelgeuse is also one of the few stars who’s the surface of features can be resolved with the telescopes.

Star’s Rotational Rate:

By closely monitoring Betelgeuse’s surface, the different researchers have calculated that the star’s rotational rate. It is somewhere between 11,000 and 33,000 mph (17,700 to 53,000 km/h). The Manos Chatzopoulos, an astronomer at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, said during a session on Monday (Jan. 6) at the 235th meeting of the American Astronomical Society here.

It is shocking because as a star age and enters the red giant phase of its life, like Betelgeuse has, the star expands it. And its rotation also typically slows down, much like an ice skater pushing out their arms to slow their spin, Chatzopoulos told Live Science. Betelgeuse is also a runaway star, meaning that the object is zipping along at a mind-boggling speed. It has done in Betelgeuse’s case, 67,000 mph (108,000 km/h) relative to background stars in the Milky Way, he added.

“For such a famous star that everyone knows and also loves because nobody has tried to explain the combination of these two things,” Chatzopoulos said, referring to its odd rotation rate and speed. “So how do you put together these two facts?”

A clue might come from where the Betelgeuse thought to originate. A star-dense region also known as the Orion OB1a association. Along with the colleagues, Chatzopoulos has suggested that gravitational interactions with the many stars in that region could have flung Betelgeuse away at high-speed millions of years ago, explaining the star’s hyper-velocity.

Researchers Discussion:

Betelgeuse might have also had a smaller companion, the researchers posited, which got tossed out along with it. As Betelgeuse aged and expanded, it might have engulfed this partner. They would also have stirred up Betelgeuse’s outer layers. It is also like stirring up coffee with a stick, Chatzopoulos said and increased its rotation rate.

He and his collaborators have run the sophisticated stellar-evolution computer models incorporating all these ideas. The results that are best fit Betelgeuse’s observed features suggested it was once two separate stars. Because of one star with 16 times the sun’s mass and another with four times the sun’s mass. Therefore, the researchers are preparing to submit their research to The Astrophysical Journal.

The researchers’ models were also able to match the amount of nitrogen seen in Betelgeuse’s atmosphere, which is unusually high. It is a potentially corroborating piece of evidence. Because the stirring of a companion star might have dredged up nitrogen from the Betelgeuse’s center, Chatzopoulos said.

Andrea Dupree And Colleagues:

“I think it’s exciting,” said Andrea Dupree. The senior astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who was not involved in the work. Dupree and her colleagues previously proposed that Betelgeuse may have swallowed exoplanetary companions. But she also said it would be useful to take a closer look at Betelgeuse’s properties. Some of which properties have not been measured in as long as 30 years before saying anything definitive about it.

Betelgeuse has lately been in the news over the possibility that it could imminently burst as a spectacular supernova. Should Chatzopoulos’ research that also provides the new explanation of Betelgeuse’s birth, does it mean anything about the star’s death?

Chatzopoulos does not have an answer to that. But if his idea is correct, he said it could mean Betelgeuse was rejuvenating at some point in the past with fresh material from the companion that the star consumed. That could have led scientists to underestimate Betelgeuse’s age, meaning it’s not suited to explode anytime soon.

As an astronomer specializing in supernovas, he also finds this perhaps a bit disappointing, he said. “All of us who study the supernova wish it would happen in our lifetime,” he said.

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