NASA scientists have captured an unprecedented explosion on the surface of a massive red supergiant star known as Betelgeuse, the space agency said in a press release.
Astronomers used NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and other observatories to determine that the senior star actually blew off part of its surface.
The researchers said the explosion caused a never-seen-before “surface mass ejection,” or SME, which is somewhat similar to the coronal mass ejections we see erupt from our own sun’s outer atmosphere, often causing bright auroras and radio disruptions on Earth, adding that he eruption from Betelgeuse ejected about 400 billion times as much mass as an average CME.
“We’ve never before seen a huge mass ejection of the surface of a star. We are left with something going on that we don’t completely understand,” Andrea Dupree, from the Harvard and Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said in a statement. “It’s a totally new phenomenon that we can observe directly and resolve surface details with Hubble. We’re watching stellar evolution in real time.”
“Betelgeuse continues doing some very unusual things right now; the interior is sort of bouncing,” Dupree said.
According to NASA, the giant star has a mind-boggling diameter of about a billion miles, which means if you replaced our sun with Betelgeuse, the star would extend all the way out to Jupiter’s orbit.
Whenever Betelgeuse finally does blow itself completely to pieces, it’ll be visible from Earth, even in the daytime sky, the release said.
The illustration below shows changes in the brightness of the red supergiant star Betelgeuse, following the titanic mass ejection of a large piece of its visible surface. The escaping material cooled to form a cloud of dust that temporarily made the star look dimmer as seen from Earth.
NASA said it will continue to examine data from the explosion to get a more detailed picture of what happened. Researchers may even try to use NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope to try to capture images of the ejected supergiant star chunk racing across the cosmos.