Celebrity star Betelgeuse is smaller and closer than we knew

Betelgeuse. Betelgeuse. Betelgeuse.

ALMA (ESO / NAOJ / NRAO) / E. O’Gorman / P. Kervella

If you have that creepy feeling like someone is breathing down your throat, it could be Betelgeuse. The infamous star – subject of an exciting Will-it-or-will-it-Supernova-Diskussion Earlier this year – may actually be much closer to Earth than we thought.

Betelgeuse is a red supergiant and monstrous compared to the size of our sun. A study published this week in the Astrophysical Journal reveals some new calculations of the star’s mass and distance, and gives us an estimate of when a supernova is likely to occur.

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Speculations about the Betelgeuse explosion went into high gear as the star went through some weird dimming and brightening episodes from late 2019. Scientists believe a Dust cloud caused one of these events. “We found that the second minor event is likely due to the star’s pulsations,” lead author Meridith Joyce said in a statement from the Australian National University (ANU) on Friday.

The science team used modeling to figure out what was going on with the pulsations and traced it back to what co-author Shing-Chi Leung of the University of Tokyo called “pressure waves – essentially sound waves.” This activity helped the researchers figure out where the star is in its life cycle.

Scientists had previously estimated this to be the size of Betelgeuse compared to our solar system, but the new study revises that estimate downwards.


The result is that Betelgeuse is in no danger of becoming a supernova anytime soon. It could easily take 100,000 years to get there. This is in line with what other scientists have suggested.

The study also shakes our knowledge of the size of the star. “The actual physical size of Betelgeuse has been a mystery – previous studies suggested it could be larger than Jupiter’s orbit. Our results indicate that Betelgeuse is only two thirds of it, with a radius 750 times the radius of the Sun, “said co-author Laszlo Molnar of the Konkoly Observatory in Budapest.

Because Betelgeuse’s size was better chosen, the team was able to calculate the distance from Earth more accurately and place it at a distance of about 530 light years, or about 25% closer than previously known. That is still far enough that Betelgeuse’s future explosion will not harm the earth.

“It’s still a big deal when a supernova goes off. And this is our closest candidate. It gives us a rare opportunity to study what happens to such stars before they explode, ”said Joyce.

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