Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Sharpest Views Of Star Betelgeuse Reveal How Supergiant Stars Lose Mass

Date:
August 3, 2009
Source:
European Southern Observatory - ESO
Summary:
Using different state-of-the-art techniques on ESO's Very Large Telescope, two independent teams of astronomers have obtained the sharpest ever views of the supergiant star Betelgeuse. They show that the star has a vast plume of gas almost as large as our Solar System and a gigantic bubble boiling on its surface. These discoveries provide important clues to help explain how these mammoths shed material at such a tremendous rate.

This artist's impression shows the supergiant star Betelgeuse as it was revealed thanks to different state-of-the-art techniques on ESO's Very Large Telescope, which allowed two independent teams of astronomers to obtain the sharpest ever views of the supergiant star Betelgeuse. They show that the star has a vast plume of gas almost as large as our Solar System and a gigantic bubble boiling on its surface. These discoveries provide important clues to help explain how these mammoths shed material at such a tremendous rate.
Credit: ESO/L. Calηada

Betelgeuse — the second brightest star in the constellation of Orion (the Hunter) — is a red supergiant, one of the biggest stars known, and almost 1000 times larger than our Sun [1]. It is also one of the most luminous stars known, emitting more light than 100 000 Suns. Such extreme properties foretell the demise of a short-lived stellar king. With an age of only a few million years, Betelgeuse is already nearing the end of its life and is soon doomed to explode as a supernova. When it does, the supernova should be seen easily from Earth, even in broad daylight.

Red supergiants still hold several unsolved mysteries. One of them is just how these behemoths shed such tremendous quantities of material — about the mass of the Sun — in only 10 000 years. Two teams of astronomers have used ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) and the most advanced technologies to take a closer look at the gigantic star. Their combined work suggests that an answer to the long-open mass-loss question may well be at hand.

The first team used the adaptive optics instrument, NACO, combined with a so-called “lucky imaging” technique, to obtain the sharpest ever image of Betelgeuse, even with Earth’s turbulent, image-distorting atmosphere in the way. With lucky imaging, only the very sharpest exposures are chosen and then combined to form an image much sharper than a single, longer exposure would be.

The resulting NACO images almost reach the theoretical limit of sharpness attainable for an 8-metre telescope. The resolution is as fine as 37 milliarcseconds, which is roughly the size of a tennis ball on the International Space Station (ISS), as seen from the ground.

“Thanks to these outstanding images, we have detected a large plume of gas extending into space from the surface of Betelgeuse,” says Pierre Kervella from the Paris Observatory, who led the team. The plume extends to at least six times the diameter of the star, corresponding to the distance between the Sun and Neptune.

“This is a clear indication that the whole outer shell of the star is not shedding matter evenly in all directions,” adds Kervella. Two mechanisms could explain this asymmetry. One assumes that the mass loss occurs above the polar caps of the giant star, possibly because of its rotation. The other possibility is that such a plume is generated above large-scale gas motions inside the star, known as convection — similar to the circulation of water heated in a pot.

To arrive at a solution, astronomers needed to probe the behemoth in still finer detail. To do this Keiichi Ohnaka from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, and his colleagues used interferometry. With the AMBER instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope Interferometer, which combines the light from three 1.8-metre Auxiliary Telescopes of the VLT, the astronomers obtained observations as sharp as those of a giant, virtual 48-metre telescope. With such superb resolution, the astronomers were able to detect indirectly details four times finer still than the amazing NACO images had already allowed (in other words, the size of a marble on the ISS, as seen from the ground).

“Our AMBER observations are the sharpest observations of any kind ever made of Betelgeuse. Moreover, we detected how the gas is moving in different areas of Betelgeuse’s surface ― the first time this has been done for a star other than the Sun”, says Ohnaka.

The AMBER observations revealed that the gas in Betelgeuse's atmosphere is moving vigorously up and down, and that these bubbles are as large as the supergiant star itself. Their unrivalled observations have led the astronomers to propose that these large-scale gas motions roiling under Betelgeuse’s red surface are behind the ejection of the massive plume into space.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by European Southern Observatory - ESO. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal References:

  1. Kervella et al. The close circumstellar environment of Betelgeuse. Adaptive optics spectro-imaging in the near-IR with VLT/NACO. Astronomy and Astrophysics, 2009; DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361/200912521
  2. Ohnaka et al. Spatially resolving the inhomogeneous structure of the dynamical atmosphere of Betelgeuse with VLTI/AMBER. Astronomy and Astrophysics, 2009; DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361/200912247

Cite This Page:

European Southern Observatory - ESO. "Sharpest Views Of Star Betelgeuse Reveal How Supergiant Stars Lose Mass." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 August 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/07/090729074525.htm>.
European Southern Observatory - ESO. (2009, August 3). Sharpest Views Of Star Betelgeuse Reveal How Supergiant Stars Lose Mass. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 28, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/07/090729074525.htm
European Southern Observatory - ESO. "Sharpest Views Of Star Betelgeuse Reveal How Supergiant Stars Lose Mass." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/07/090729074525.htm (accessed July 28, 2014).

Share This




More Space & Time News

Monday, July 28, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

This Week @ NASA, July 25, 2014

This Week @ NASA, July 25, 2014

NASA (July 25, 2014) — Apollo 11 celebration, Next Giant Leap anticipation, ISS astronauts appear in the House and more... Video provided by NASA
Powered by NewsLook.com
Space to Ground: Coming and Going

Space to Ground: Coming and Going

NASA (July 25, 2014) — One station cargo ship leaves, another arrives, aquatic research and commercial spinoffs. Questions or comments? Use #spacetoground to talk to us. Video provided by NASA
Powered by NewsLook.com
How A Solar Flare Could Have Wrecked Earth's Electronics

How A Solar Flare Could Have Wrecked Earth's Electronics

Newsy (July 25, 2014) — Researchers say if Earth had been a week earlier in its orbit around the sun, it would have taken a direct hit from a 2012 coronal mass ejection. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: ISS Cargo Ship Launches in Kazakhstan

Raw: ISS Cargo Ship Launches in Kazakhstan

AP (July 23, 2014) — The Progress 56 cargo ship launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan Wednesday. NASA says it will deliver cargo and crew supplies to the International Space Station. (July 23) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins