Oddly dimming star isn’t about to explode after all

Composite Image by ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgment: Davide De Martin

Rumors of Betelgeuse’s impending death have been greatly exaggerated. The red supergiant star appears to be in no danger of imminently exploding, even though a recent, dramatic dip in brightness hinted that it could be on its last legs. The latest observations reveal instead that the star is starting to regain its former light.

“Betelgeuse has definitely stopped dimming and has started to slowly brighten,” a team reported on February 22 in the Astronomer’s Telegram. “Observations of all kinds continue to be needed to understand the nature of this unprecedented dimming episode and what this surprising star will do next.”

With Betelgeuse’s light on the rise, astronomers are now hoping to figure out what caused such a precipitous drop in brightness at the end of 2019—while simultaneously dealing with the disappointment of not witnessing a nearby supernova.

“I would love to say it’s going to go supernova,” says Andrea Dupree of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. “We don’t have much information at all about what happens right before, the night before, the week before, or a month before a supernova.”

Fainting, fainting giant star

Normally a bright, conspicuous red point on the constellation Orion’s shoulder, Betelgeuse is one of the most recognizable stars in the night sky. About 700 light-years away, the star is a young red supergiant, bloated and lumpy, that’s so big it would balloon out to Jupiter if it were parked in place of the sun. The giant pulses regularly, and its surface is a mottled mosaic...

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