New discoveries from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have helped astronomers unravel the mystery of why Orion’s bright red supergiant Betelgeuse faded dramatically in weeks last year.
In a study of the massive red hypergiant VY Canis Majoris, astrophysicists from NASA and the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis found that the same processes are taking place on a much larger scale.
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The observation was published in The Astronomical Journal on February 4, 2021, where the authors wrote that the images and spectroscopy confirmed “a record of events with large mass losses over the past several hundred years.”
“The similarity of this correspondence in VY [Canis Majoris] with the remarkable recent eclipse of Betelgeuse and the gas leak is obvious, “they said.” Evidence of such surface leakages of a more typical red supergiant shows that discrete discharges are more common and surface or convective activity is a major source of mass loss for red supergiants. “
In a press release from NASA on Thursday, Honorary Professor of the University of Minnesota Roberta Humphries explained that Hubble data shows that VY Canis Majoris behaves like a “steroid” Betelgeuse.
In the case of the smaller star, the researchers say the eclipse is due to a gas leak that may have formed dust that temporarily obstructs some of the star’s light.
“I think the big conclusion for these results is that the massive ejections or leakages from the star observed in [Hubble] the images and measurements in the spectra correlate with periods of high volatility and deep lows in its light observed over two centuries, “Humphreys told Fox News on Friday.
“We believe this is due to activity or surface convection responsible for massive gas emissions,” she continued. “For example, we know that the sun has eruptions and bursts of gas streams that we see as bulges.”
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“In VY Canis Major – 30 [times the] mass of [the] sun and 300,000 brighter – it’s much more extreme, “she said.” These gases can be as much as 10 times the mass of Jupiter. “
Plasma arches surround the VY Canis Majoris, which appear to have been ejected from it at distances thousands of times farther from Earth than the sun in the last few hundred years.
However, other structures close to a million-year-old star – which look like knots – are relatively compact, and scientists working with Humphrey could date more recent eruptions to the 19th and 20th centuries, when VY Canis Majoris faded to one-sixth. from its original brightness.
The report notes that the hypergiant is losing 100 times more mass in Betelgeuse and is now visible only with a telescope.
“This is probably more common in red supergiants than scientists thought, and VY Canis Majoris is an outstanding example,” she said in a statement. “It could even be the main mechanism that drives weight loss, which has always been a bit of a mystery to red supergiants.”
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The future of the launch is uncertain, but Humphreys said the star was “obviously unstable”.
“This great loss of mass will determine its eventual fate either as a supernova or as a black hole,” she said.