Betelgeuse has dimmed 60% ahead of potentially imminent supernova

Betelgeuse, normally one of the brightest stars in the night sky, has dimmed 60% ahead of what some astronomers think is a potentially imminent supernova.

An international team of astronomers, led by Dr Thavisha Dharmawardena from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, have demonstrated that the dimming was most probably caused by giant star spots covering up to 70% of Betelgeuse's surface.

As their fuel supply runs out, the processes change by which the stars release energy," Dr Dharmawardena explained.

Betelgeuse is so large the gravitational pull on its surface isn't sufficient to prevent these pulsations from ejecting the outer layers of the star.

"What surprised us was that Betelgeuse turned 20% darker even in the sub-millimetre wave range," reported Steve Mairs from the East Asian Observatory, who collaborated on the study.

"Observations in the coming years will tell us whether the sharp decrease in Betelgeuse's brightness is related to a spot cycle.

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