Hubble telescope solves mystery of star’s dimming


New findings from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have helped astronomers to solve the mystery of why Orion’s bright red supergiant Betelgeuse dramatically faded for a period of weeks last year. 

In examining the massive red hypergiant VY Canis Majoris, astrophysicists from NASA and the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis found that the same processes are occurring on a much larger scale.

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The observation was published in the Feb. 4, 2021 edition of The Astronomical Journal, where the authors wrote that imaging and spectroscopy confirm a “record of high mass-loss events over the past few hundred years.”

“The similarity of this correspondence in VY (Canis Majoris) with the remarkable recent dimming of Betelgeuse and an outflow of gas is apparent,” they said. “The evidence for similar outflows from the surface of a more typical red supergiant suggests that discrete ejections are more common and surface or convective activity is a major source of mass loss for red supergiants.”

In a Thursday press release from NASA, the University of Minnesota’s Distinguished Professor Roberta Humphreys explained that Hubble data showed VY Canis Majoris behaving like Betelgeuse “on steroids.” 

This artist's impression of the hypergiant star VY Canis Majoris reveals the star's large convection cells and giant arcs. Credits: NASA, ESA, and R. Humphreys (University of Minnesota), and J. Olmsted (STScI)

This artist’s impression of the hypergiant star VY Canis Majoris reveals the star’s large convection cells and giant arcs. Credits: NASA, ESA, and R. Humphreys (University of Minnesota), and J. Olmsted (STScI)

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