From European Southern Observatory: “ESO Telescope Sees Surface of Dim Betelgeuse”

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From European Southern Observatory

14 February 2020

Miguel Montargès
FWO [PEGASUS]² Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow / Institute of Astronomy, KU Leuven
Leuven, Belgium
Tel: +32 16 32 74 67
Email: miguel.montarges@kuleuven.be

Emily Cannon
Institute of Astronomy, KU Leuven
Leuven, Belgium
Tel: +32 16 32 88 92
Email: emily.cannon@kuleuven.be

Pierre Kervella
LESIA, Observatoire de Paris – PSL
Paris, France
Tel: +33 0145077966
Email: pierre.kervella@observatoiredeparis.psl.eu

Bárbara Ferreira
ESO Public Information Officer
Garching bei München, Germany
Tel: +49 89 3200 6670
Cell: +49 151 241 664 00
Email: pio@eso.org

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Using ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) [below], astronomers have captured the unprecedented dimming of Betelgeuse [2020], a red supergiant star in the constellation of Orion. The stunning new images of the star’s surface show not only the fading red supergiant but also how its apparent shape is changing.

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The red supergiant star Betelgeuse, in the constellation of Orion, has been undergoing unprecedented dimming. This stunning image of the star’s surface was taken with the SPHERE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope in January 2019, before the star started to dim. When compared with the image taken in December 2019, it shows how much the star has faded and how its apparent shape has changed. Credit: ESO/M. Montargès et al.

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The red supergiant star Betelgeuse, in the constellation of Orion, has been undergoing unprecedented dimming. This stunning image of the star’s surface, taken with the SPHERE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope late last year, is among the first observations to come out of an observing campaign aimed at understanding why the star is becoming fainter. When compared with the image taken in January 2019, it shows how much the star has faded and how its apparent shape has changed. Credit: ESO/M. Montargès et al.

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This comparison image shows the star Betelgeuse before and after its unprecedented dimming. The observations, taken with the SPHERE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope in January and December 2019, show how much the star has faded and how its apparent shape has changed. Credit: ESO/M. Montargès et al.

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This image, obtained with the VISIR instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope, shows the infrared light being emitted by the dust surrounding Betelgeuse in December 2019. The clouds of dust, which resemble flames in this dramatic image, are formed when the star sheds its material back into space. The black disc obscures the star’s centre and much of its surroundings, which are very bright and must be masked to allow the fainter dust plumes to be seen. The orange dot in the middle is the SPHERE image of Betelgeuse’s surface, which has a size close to that of Jupiter’s orbit. Credit: ESO/P. Kervella/M. Montargès et al., Acknowledgement: Eric Pantin

ESOcast 217 Light: ESO Telescope Sees Surface of Dim Betelgeuse

Using ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), astronomers have captured the unprecedented dimming of Betelgeuse, a red supergiant star in the constellation Orion.
The video is available in 4K UHD.
The ESOcast Light is a series of short videos bringing you the wonders of the Universe in bite-sized pieces. The ESOcast Light episodes will not be replacing the standard, longer ESOcasts, but complement them with current astronomy news and images in ESO press releases. Credit: ESO

Directed by: Herbert Zodet.
Editing : Herbert Zodet.
Web and technical support: Gurvan Bazin and Raquel Yumi Shida.
Written by: Caitlyn Buongiorno and Bárbara Ferreira.
Music: tonelabs (www.tonelabs.com) – Expect The Unexpected.
Footage and photos: Kervella/M. Montargès et al., acknowledgement: Eric Pantin, Digitized Sky Survey 2, M. Zamani and P. Horálek.
Scientific consultants: Paola Amico and Mariya Lyubenova.

Zooming in on Betelgeuse

This video takes the viewer from the constellation of Orion to the surface of the supergiant star Betelgeuse, which is undergoing unprecedented dimming. That dot appearing at the end of the zoom is a SPHERE image showing Betelgeuse’s visible surface, which has a size close to the orbit of Jupiter. Credit: ESO/P. Kervella/M. Montargès et al., Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgement: Eric Pantin, N. Risinger (skysurvey.org). Music: Johan B. Monell (www.johanmonell.com)

From Betelgeuse’s surroundings to its surface

This video takes the viewer from the surroundings of Betelgeuse, recently observed with the VISIR instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), to its surface, which has been imaged by SPHERE on the VLT. The VISIR image shows the infrared light being emitted by the dust surrounding Betelgeuse in December 2019. The SPHERE image shows Betelgeuse’s visible surface, which has a size close to the orbit of Jupiter, in the same month. Credit: ESO/P. Kervella/M. Montargès et al., Acknowledgement: Eric Pantin

Betelgeuse has been a beacon in the night sky for stellar observers but it began to dim late last year. At the time of writing Betelgeuse is at about 36% of its normal brightness, a change noticeable even to the naked eye. Astronomy enthusiasts and scientists alike were excitedly hoping to find out more about this unprecedented dimming.

A team led by Miguel Montargès, an astronomer at KU Leuven in Belgium, has been observing the star with ESO’s Very Large Telescope since December, aiming to understand why it’s becoming fainter. Among the first observations to come out of their campaign is a stunning new image of Betelgeuse’s surface, taken late last year with the SPHERE instrument.

ESO SPHERE extreme adaptive optics system and coronagraphic facility on the extreme adaptive optics system and coronagraphic facility on the VLT MELIPAL UT3, Cerro Paranal, Chile, with an elevation of 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

The team also happened to observe the star with SPHERE in January 2019, before it began to dim, giving us a before-and-after picture of Betelgeuse. Taken in visible light, the images highlight the changes occurring to the star both in brightness and in apparent shape.

Many astronomy enthusiasts wondered if Betelgeuse’s dimming meant it was about to explode. Like all red supergiants, Betelgeuse will one day go supernova, but astronomers don’t think this is happening now. They have other hypotheses to explain what exactly is causing the shift in shape and brightness seen in the SPHERE images. “The two scenarios we are working on are a cooling of the surface due to exceptional stellar activity or dust ejection towards us,” says Montargès [1]. “Of course, our knowledge of red supergiants remains incomplete, and this is still a work in progress, so a surprise can still happen.”

Montargès and his team needed the VLT at Cerro Paranal in Chile to study the star, which is over 700 light-years away, and gather clues on its dimming. “ESO’s Paranal Observatory is one of few facilities capable of imaging the surface of Betelgeuse,” he says. Instruments on ESO’s VLT allow observations from the visible to the mid-infrared, meaning astronomers can see both the surface of Betelgeuse and the material around it. “This is the only way we can understand what is happening to the star.”

Another new image, obtained with the VISIR instrument on the VLT, shows the infrared light being emitted by the dust surrounding Betelgeuse in December 2019.

ESO/VISIR on UT3 of the VLT

These observations were made by a team led by Pierre Kervella from the Observatory of Paris in France who explained that the wavelength of the image is similar to that detected by heat cameras. The clouds of dust, which resemble flames in the VISIR image, are formed when the star sheds its material back into space.

“The phrase ‘we are all made of stardust’ is one we hear a lot in popular astronomy, but where exactly does this dust come from?” says Emily Cannon, a PhD student at KU Leuven working with SPHERE images of red supergiants. “Over their lifetimes, red supergiants like Betelgeuse create and eject vast amounts of material even before they explode as supernovae. Modern technology has enabled us to study these objects, hundreds of light-years away, in unprecedented detail giving us the opportunity to unravel the mystery of what triggers their mass loss.”

Notes

[1] Betelgeuse’s irregular surface is made up of giant convective cells that move, shrink and swell. The star also pulsates, like a beating heart, periodically changing in brightness. These convection and pulsation changes in Betelgeuse are referred to as stellar activity.

More information

The team is composed of Miguel Montargès (Institute of Astronomy, KU Leuven, Belgium), Emily Cannon (Institute of Astronomy, KU Leuven, Belgium), Pierre Kervella (LESIA, Observatoire de Paris – PSL, France), Eric Lagadec (Laboratoire Lagrange, Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur, France), Faustine Cantalloube (Max-Planck-Institut für Astronomie, Heidelberg, Germany), Joel Sánchez Bermúdez (Instituto de Astronomía, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico City, Mexico and Max-Planck-Institut für Astronomie, Heidelberg, Germany), Andrea Dupree (Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian, USA), Elsa Huby (LESIA, Observatoire de Paris – PSL, France), Ryan Norris (Georgia State University, USA), Benjamin Tessore (IPAG, France), Andrea Chiavassa (Laboratoire Lagrange, Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur, France), Claudia Paladini (ESO, Chile), Agnès Lèbre (Université de Montpellier, France), Leen Decin (Institute of Astronomy, KU Leuven, Belgium), Markus Wittkowski (ESO, Germany), Gioia Rau (NASA/GSFC, USA), Arturo López Ariste (IRAP, France), Stephen Ridgway (NSF’s National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory, USA), Guy Perrin (LESIA, Observatoire de Paris – PSL, France), Alex de Koter (Astronomical Institute Anton Pannekoek, Amsterdam University, The Netherlands & Institute of Astronomy, KU Leuven, Belgium), Xavier Haubois (ESO, Chile).

The VISIR image was obtained as part of the NEAR science demonstration observations. NEAR (Near Earths in the AlphaCen Region) is an upgrade of VISIR, which was implemented as a time-limited experiment.

See the full article here .


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ESO VLT at Cerro Paranal in the Atacama Desert, •ANTU (UT1; The Sun ),
•KUEYEN (UT2; The Moon ),
•MELIPAL (UT3; The Southern Cross ), and
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elevation 2,635 m (8,645 ft) from above Credit J.L. Dauvergne & G. Hüdepohl atacama photo,

2009 ESO VLTI Interferometer image, Cerro Paranal, with an elevation of 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level, •ANTU (UT1; The Sun ),
•KUEYEN (UT2; The Moon ),
•MELIPAL (UT3; The Southern Cross ), and
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ESO/NTT at Cerro La Silla, Chile, at an altitude of 2400 metres

ESO VLT Survey telescope

Part of ESO’s Paranal Observatory, the VISTA Telescope observes the brilliantly clear skies above the Atacama Desert of Chile. Credit: ESO/Y. Beletsky, with an elevation of 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

ESO/NRAO/NAOJ ALMA Array in Chile in the Atacama at Chajnantor plateau, at 5,000 metres

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ESO APEXESO/MPIfR APEX high on the Chajnantor plateau in Chile’s Atacama region, at an altitude of over 4,800 m (15,700 ft)at the Llano de Chajnantor Observatory in the Atacama desert.

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Leiden MASCARA cabinet at ESO Cerro la Silla located in the southern Atacama Desert 600 kilometres (370 mi) north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2,400 metres (7,900 ft)

ESO Next Generation Transit Survey at Cerro Paranel, 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

ESO Speculoos telescopes four 1m-diameter robotic telescopes at ESO Paranal Observatory 2635 metres 8645 ft above sea level

ESO TAROT telescope at Paranal, 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

ESO ExTrA telescopes at Cerro LaSilla at an altitude of 2400 metres

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