Betelgeuse braces for a collision

Jan 22, 2013
Composite colour image of the Herschel PACS 70, 100, 160 micron-wavelength images of Betelgeuse. North is to the top left, east is to the bottom left, and the image is about 25 arcminutes across. The star (centre) is surrounded by a clumpy envelope of material in its immediate vicinity. A series of arcs 6–7 arcminutes to the left of the star is material ejected from Betelgeuse as it evolved into a red supergiant star, shaped by its bow shock interaction with the interstellar medium. A faint linear bar of dust is illuminated at a distance of 9 arcminutes and may represent a dusty filament connected to the local Galactic magnetic field or the edge of an interstellar cloud. If so, then Betelgeuse’s motion across the sky implies that the arcs will hit the wall in 5000 years time, with the star colliding with the wall 12 500 years later. Credit: ESA/Herschel/PACS/L. Decin et al

(Phys.org)—Multiple arcs are revealed around Betelgeuse, the nearest red supergiant star to Earth, in this new image from ESA's Herschel space observatory. The star and its arc-shaped shields could collide with an intriguing dusty 'wall' in 5000 years.

Betelgeuse rides on the shoulder of the the Hunter. It can easily be seen with the naked eye in the northern hemisphere winter night sky as the orange–red star above and to the left of Orion's famous three-star belt.

Roughly 1000 times the diameter of our Sun and shining 100 000 times more brightly, Betelgeuse's impressive statistics come with a cost. For this star is likely on its way to a spectacular supernova explosion, having already swelled into a red supergiant and shed a significant fraction of its outer layers.

The new far- from Herschel shows how the star's winds are crashing against the surrounding interstellar medium, creating a as the star moves through space at speeds of around 30 km/s.

A series of broken, dusty arcs ahead of the star's direction of motion testify to a turbulent history of mass loss.

Closer to the star itself, an inner envelope of material shows a pronounced asymmetric structure. Large convective cells in the star's have likely resulted in localised, clumpy ejections of dusty debris at different stages in the past.

An intriguing linear structure is also seen further away from the star, beyond the dusty arcs. While some earlier theories proposed that this bar was a result of material ejected during a previous stage of , analysis of the new image suggests that it is either a linear filament linked to the Galaxy's magnetic field, or the edge of a nearby interstellar cloud that is being illuminated by Betelgeuse.

If the bar is a completely separate object, then taking into account the motion of Betelgeuse and its arcs and the separation between them and the bar, the outermost arc will collide with the bar in just 5000 years, with the red supergiant star itself hitting the bar roughly 12 500 years later.

Explore further: Planets with oddball orbits like Mercury could host life

More information: "The enigmatic nature of the circumstellar envelope and bow shock surrounding Betelgeuse as revealed by Herschel," by L. Decin et al, was published in Astronomy & Astrophysics, December 2012.

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User comments : 15

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waremi
5 / 5 (6) Jan 22, 2013
My question is does Betelgeuse have 20,000 years left to reach this wall, or is it more likely to go S.N. prior to that. (I've always had a secret hope that it would go nova before I die..)
Q-Star
3.2 / 5 (13) Jan 22, 2013
(I've always had a secret hope that it would go nova before I die..)


There is no reason it couldn't go supernova in the next few days, few years, or even the next few thousands of years. But my hope to see it has never been a very well kept secret. It would be the high point of my stargazing life.

Betegeuse has always been my "favorite" star, I'd love to see it go,,,,,,
PosterusNeticus
5 / 5 (5) Jan 22, 2013
I'm right there with you, Q-Star. Every time I look up at Orion I think, "Now would be a good time!"

This is a stunning image, by the way. In my opinion Herschel doesn't get enough press.
jonnyboy
1 / 5 (10) Jan 22, 2013
North is to the top left, east is to the bottom left.....so they took this image from the other side of the star, quite a trick.
GuruShabu
1.3 / 5 (9) Jan 22, 2013
To all fo you guys above...I also had this dream of being able to see a "day light" S.N.!
If the "Shoulder of the Giant" can give us this fantastic gift it would be a life time UNBELIEVABLE experience!
Cheers!
Argiod
1 / 5 (21) Jan 22, 2013
Frankly, I don't give a flying **** what is happening 5000 years from now, and out as far as Beetlejuice. In other words: SO WHAT?!

I'm a little more concerned about how I'm going to pay the rent, feed and clothe myself over the next few years, right here on my home planet, Earth.
Q-Star
4 / 5 (21) Jan 22, 2013
Frankly, I don't give a flying **** what is happening 5000 years from now, and out as far as Beetlejuice. In other words: SO WHAT?!

I'm a little more concerned about how I'm going to pay the rent, feed and clothe myself over the next few years, right here on my home planet, Earth.


Then why waste your time reading these comments? Much less wasting your time visiting astronomy sites?
RealScience
5 / 5 (2) Jan 22, 2013
It would indeed be glorious if Betelgeuse were to go supernova in our lifetimes.
But Eta Carinae looks much more likely to go in the next few decades than Betelgeuse. While ~10x farther away, it is also much bigger, a true giant among stars, and would also be glorious.
HannesAlfven
1.5 / 5 (16) Jan 22, 2013
Re: "Frankly, I don't give a flying **** what is happening 5000 years from now, and out as far as Beetlejuice. In other words: SO WHAT?! I'm a little more concerned about how I'm going to pay the rent, feed and clothe myself over the next few years, right here on my home planet, Earth."

I suspect, actually, that many people feel very similarly about modern cosmology and astrophysics, and simply don't express it. This is what happens when your cosmology fails to account for the first 5,000 years of human storytelling, and with it the origin of language, the fundamental archetypes and complex human thought. Had science adopted a more constructivist approach to cosmology, people might be able to pick the one which has the most meaning for them personally. For me, when I see red dwarf press releases, I prefer Wal Thornhill's interpretation. In that worldview, the red dwarfs are incredibly important because the EU predicts that they are the ideal locus for the origin of life.
rubberman
1 / 5 (5) Jan 23, 2013
It would indeed be glorious if Betelgeuse were to go supernova in our lifetimes.
But Eta Carinae looks much more likely to go in the next few decades than Betelgeuse. While ~10x farther away, it is also much bigger, a true giant among stars, and would also be glorious.


I'd pop a bag of Orville's finest for either event!
Lurker2358
1 / 5 (6) Jan 23, 2013
I think Betelgeuse would be bright enough to scare the hell out of people when it explodes, if it undergoes the same process as the Crab. Since it is ten times closer than the Crab, it should be 100 times brighter per unit mass. Also, if the real mass is somewhere in the middle of the estimates then it is also about 20% to 40% more massive than the Crab Nebula star before it exploded.

So we may be talking more like 120 to 140 times as bright as the crab nebula supernova, which was itself visible to the naked eye for quite some time. Might not be something you'd want to look at in an amateur telescope or binoculars, as you may need filters or risk eye damage...
nkalanaga
not rated yet Jan 23, 2013
jonnyboy: Many astronomical telescopes reverse the image. So, no, they didn't take it "from the other side of the star", but it is backwards to what you'd see with the naked eye or binoculars.

Or, of course, it could be a typo...
cdt
5 / 5 (1) Jan 27, 2013
Jonnyboy: stand facing North. East is to your right. Now tilt your head back so that you're looking straight up. East remains to your right, but compared to the direction your eyes are facing north is now down. Take a picture like this and north will be down while east is right. Tilt your head downward while your body still faces north and look straight down at the ground. East is still to the right, but now north is "up" relative to the direction you are looking. Take a picture like this and directions will be exactly like they are on any standard land map.
Fleetfoot
5 / 5 (1) Jan 27, 2013
Jonnyboy: stand facing North. East is to your right.


Try this. Stand facing south and point your camera south and up at 45 degrees elevation. Then rotate the camera 45 degrees clockwise and take your picture. The north celestial pole will be to the top left of the picture while east will be to the bottom left.

As you described it, you had your back to the star.
poeteye
1.7 / 5 (6) Feb 01, 2013
COSMIC PREDICTION
-- James Ph. Kotsybar

Betelgeuse is gonna blow!
It's just a matter of time
It's only ten million years old
But already well past its prime.
Betelgeuse is gonna blow:
Its hydrogen fuel is spent,
And though it's switched its diet,
And decreased by fifteen percent,
Betelgeuse is gonna blow,
And it's gonna happen soon --
Within a hundred thousand years
It will seem as bright as the moon.
When exactly, we don't know,
But Betelgeuse is gonna blow!