Betelgeuse, the star that could explode, poses for a brilliant portrait

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ESO's Very Large Telescope took this darkening view of Betelgeuse's surface in December 2019.

ESO / M. Montargès et al.

See you, Betelgeuse, and we can't look the other way. The astronomers used a telescope of the European Southern Observatory in Chile to take a view of the surface of Betelgeuse and its "unprecedented obscuration".

The red supergiant star that hangs in the constellation Orion has been acting lately, which leads to speculate that may become supernova soon.

The very large telescope Sphere instrument captured the image of the surface in December 2019 when the star lost its brightness remarkably. Astronomers compared the portrait with one taken in January 2019 and it is clear that Betelgeuse is having a brightness crisis.

These images show the surface of Betelgeuse in January 2019 and in December 2019 when it had dimmed.

ESO / M. Montargès et al.

While a supernova would be a spectacular sight, astronomers do not expect that to happen.

"The two scenarios we are working on are a surface cooling due to exceptional stellar activity or the expulsion of dust to us," astronomer Miguel Montargès said in an ESO statement on Friday. "Of course, our knowledge of red supergiants is still incomplete, and this is still a work in progress, so a surprise may still occur."

The star is currently at approximately 36% of its normal brightness, "a noticeable change even with the naked eye," ESO said.

Betelgeuse's fate is sealed. It will become a supernova someday. That day will probably be tens of thousands of years in the future. Or maybe it will be tomorrow. We should know more about his strange behavior in the coming weeks.

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