New findings from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have helped astronomers solve the mystery of why Orion’s pink supergiant Betelgeuse dramatically faded over a period of weeks last year.
In the study of the massive red hypergiant VY Canis Majoris, astrophysicists from NASA and the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis found that the same processes occur on a much larger scale.
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The observation was published in the Feb. 4, 2021 issue of The Astronomical Journal, in which the authors wrote that imaging and spectroscopy confirm a “record of high mass loss events over the past few hundred years.”
“The similarity of this correspondence in VY [Canis Majoris] with the remarkable recent dampening of the Betelgeuse and an outflow of gas is evident, “they said.” Evidence for similar outflows from the surface of a more typical red supergiant suggests that discrete drafts are more common and surface or convective activity is an important source. of mass loss for red supergiants. “
In a press release from NASA on Thursday, the University of Minnesota’s Distinguished Professor Roberta Humphreys explained that Hubble data showed that VY Canis Majoris behaved like Betelgeuse “on steroids.”
In the case of the smaller star, scientists say the attenuation was due to an outflow of gas that may have formed dust that temporarily blocked some of the star’s light.
“I think the big pickup about these results is that the massive emissions or outflows from the star observed in [Hubble] images and measured in spectra are correlated with periods of great variation and deep minima in its light observed over two centuries, ”Humphreys told Fox News on Friday.
“We think this is due to activity or convection on the surface that is responsible for massive gas emissions,” she continued. “For example, we know that the sun has flares and eruptions of gas currents that we see as prominent.”
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“I VY Canis Major – 30 [times the] lots of [the] sun and 300,000 more luminous – this is much more extreme, “she said. These gaseous effluents can be as much as 10 times the mass of Jupiter. “
Arcs of plasma surround VY Canis Majoris and appear to have been thrown out of it at distances thousands of times farther than Earth is from the sun and over the last several hundred years.
However, other structures close to the millions of years old star – resembling nodes – are relatively compact, and scientists working with Humphrey could date recent eruptions to the 19th and 20th centuries, when VY Canis Majoris faded to a single of its original brightness.
The release notes that the hypergiant is losing 100 times as much mass at Betelgeuse and is now only visible using a telescope.
“This is probably more common in red supergiants than scientists thought, and VY Canis Majoris is an extreme example,” she said in the release. “It may even be the main mechanism driving the mass loss, which has always been a bit of a mystery to red supergiants.”
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The future of the start is uncertain, but Humphreys said the star is “obviously unstable.”
“This high mass loss will determine its eventual fate either as a supernova or a black hole,” she said.