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Is Betelgeuse About To Explode? – Forbes

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Rogelio Bernal Andreo

When you take a look at the stars in the night sky, they generally appear the same regardless of time. Only a small number of stars ever appear to change on human timescales, as most stars burn through their fuel very stably, with almost no variation in their continuous brightness. The few stars that do appear to change are either intrinsically variable, members of multi-star systems, or go through an enormous evolutionary change.

When very massive stars get close to the end of their lives, they start varying by tremendous amounts, and do so with significant irregularity. At a critical moment, most of these stars will run out of the nuclear fuel holding up their cores against collapse, and the resulting implosion leads to a runaway cataclysm: a core-collapse supernova. Could Betelgeuse, whose variability intensified in a novel way over the last few days, be about to explode? Here’s what astronomers know so far.

A. Dupree (CfA), R. Gilliland (STScI), NASA

The last time our species witnessed a supernova from within our own galaxy with the naked human eye, the year was 1604. A new point of light in the sky suddenly appeared, brightened, and briefly outshone every single star before slowly fading away. This wasn’t the first such event, as prior supernovae had illuminated Earth’s skies like this in 1572, 1054, and 1006, among others.

But all of those supernovae occurred from stars that were thousands of light-years away, with Kepler’s 1604 explosion being traced back to a stellar remnant located some 20,000 light-years across the Milky Way. Of all the stars we see in the night sky, one bright member stands out as the most fascinating possibility as our galaxy’s next supernova: Betelgeuse, one of our sky’s 10 brightest stars, located a mere 640 light-years away.

ESO/L. Calçada

Betelgeuse, best known as the bright red “shoulder” star in the constellation of Orion, is one of the most remarkable objects in all of astronomy. It is a red supergiant star: red because of its low surface temperatures, supergiant because its radius is so enormous that — if it were to replace the Sun in our Solar System — it would engulf the orbits of Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, the asteroid belt, and possibly even Jupiter! In terms of physical size, it’s approximately 900 times the radius, and 700 million times the volume, of our Sun.

Betelgeuse is so large and so close that it was the first star beyond our Sun to ever be resolved as more than a point source. But perhaps its most fascinating property is that Betelgeuse is a pulsating, variable star, meaning that its diameter and brightness both change with time.

NRAO/AUI and J. Lim, C. Carilli, S.M. White, A.J. Beasley, and R.G. Marson

At approximately 20 times the mass of our Sun, there’s little doubt that Betelgeuse is headed on it was to becoming a supernova. Betelgeuse was likely formed in the great Orion molecular cloud complex very recently on cosmic scales: within the last 10 million years. It has already finished burning through all the hydrogen fuel in its core, and has gone onto the next element, helium, which it fuses into carbon.

Perhaps ironically, the core of Betelgeuse is now much smaller than when it was fusing hydrogen, as it contracted and heated up tremendously in order to begin fusing helium. The outer layers, with this increased radiation pressure, expanded and cooled tremendously. At a surface temperature of only 3500 K, barely half the temperature of our Sun’s photosphere, only 13% of Betelgeuse’s energy output is detectable to human eyes. If we could see the entire electromagnetic spectrum from our perspective, Betelgeuse would outshine every star in the Universe except our Sun.

NASA / WISE

We aren’t sure whether Betelgeuse is exclusively fusing helium in its core, or whether the interior has contracted even further and is now fusing carbon. While the helium fusion phase lasts for timescales of ~100,000 years, carbon fusion lasts for merely hundreds. Unfortunately, the only signature that would give us a surefire view of what processes are occurring in the core — neutrino emissions — are too faint to be seen from 640 light-years away.

All we can observe, when it comes to Betelgeuse at the present, is what’s occurring in its outermost layers. When we look there, what we see is remarkable: it’s constantly losing mass, pulsing, having its outermost layers expelled, and changing over time in both its apparent brightness and redness.

ESO/P. Kervella

Recently, in just the past few weeks, its brightness has dropped tremendously, knocking it out of the top 10 brightest stars for the first time in many years. This dimming has led many to suspect that a supernova may be imminent, but this is extremely unlikely. The story is simple, straightforward, but not known by most people, with the exception of professional astronomers.

The key takeaway is this: what’s occurring in the outer layers of a supergiant star is largely unrelated to what processes are occurring in the inner core of a supergiant star. When you examine variable stars in general, you might think that the pulsing/variability that you see is because some process that’s changing in the core is propagating to the surface, but that’s not usually the case. Instead, there are huge convective cells in the outer layers of the star, and changes there are more than capable of causing this dimming.

AAVSO / Lautaro Vergara

In fact, if you look beyond the previous decade and instead go back to the past century, you’ll find that Betelgeuse has been this dim many, many times in the past. If you look beyond the photosphere of the star itself, you’ll find that there are enormous radio emissions that reveal the presence of expelled gas out beyond where the orbit of Neptune is around the Sun.

Similar dimming events have occurred before, reducing the brightness of Betelgeuse below even what it currently is at. But to see a dimming event occur this rapidly and this severely really hasn’t been seen before over the past century at all. It’s unlikely to be a signature of an imminent supernova, but we have to remember that since the advent of modern astronomy, we’ve never seen a star up close in the lead-up to a supernova. Whether there’s a detonation about to happen or not, something fascinating is truly occurring.

Bernd Freytag with Susanne Höfner & Sofie Liljegren

What’s not up for debate is how truly remarkable the processes at play are here. On our Sun alone, the sized of the convective cells that we find are larger than the continent of North America, with sunspots frequently exceeding the size of Earth. On the surface of a red supergiant — thousands of times larger than our Sun — there might only be a handful of convective cells altogether, causing it to look like, according to astronomer Emily Levesque, a “wacky, giant, boiling amoeba-star,” as simulated above.

Our actual astronomical maps of Betelgeuse cannot yet attain that kind of resolution, but can still reveal the following properties of Betelgeuse:

  • its irregular shape,
  • its uneven, non-uniform temperature,
  • localized hot spots,
  • and even faint plumes of illuminated ejecta near the photosphere itself.

ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/E. O’Gorman/P. Kervella

The opportunity to study a red supergiant up close, one that’s about to go supernova relatively soon (at least, on astronomical timescales), has never occurred like this before. At only 640 light-years distant, Betelgeuse could have gone supernova at any time since the 14th century and that signal would not yet have arrived here on Earth.

When that supernova does occur, however, we’re in for a real treat. The runaway fusion reaction that occurs in the final few instants of the star’s life will generate neutrinos that should lead to millions of detectable events here our terrestrial neutrino detectors. The star will brighten to the point where it will rival or possibly even exceed the brightness of the full Moon, casting brilliant shadows at night and being clearly visible during the day for more than a year.

Wikimedia Commons user HeNRyKus / Celestia

Unfortunately, though, the key question of exactly when Betelgeuse is going to go supernova is one that we’re not any closer to having an answer to. Until we can measure the processes occurring in the star’s core, which would require a neutrino telescope far more powerful than all the neutrino observatories on Earth combined, we cannot know which elements are being fused inside of it.

Right now, our best models are consistent with helium-burning rather than any of the heavier elements, indicating that we have at least hundreds of years — and possibly hundreds of thousands — until the inevitable supernova finally detonates. If you haven’t checked out the constellation of Orion recently, though, take a good look and notice how much dimmer red Betelgeuse is than blue Rigel, a severe departure from its past decade of appearances. A supernova may not be imminent, but is sure is fascinating to watch and hope!

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NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope captured two festive-looking nebulas – Tech Explorist

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The image shows NGC 248, about 60 light-years long and 20 light-years wide. They are two nebulas, situated to appear as one. The nebulas, together, are called NGC 248.

Initially discovered in 1834 by the astronomer Sir John Herschel, NGC 248 resides in the Small Magellanic Cloud, located approximately 200,000 light-years away in the southern constellation Tucana.

Small Magellanic Cloud is a dwarf galaxy that is a satellite of our Milky Way galaxy. The image is part of a study called Small Magellanic Cloud Investigation of Dust and Gas Evolution (SMIDGE).

The dwarf satellite galaxy contains several brilliant hydrogen nebulas, including NGC 248. Intense radiation from the brilliant central stars is heating hydrogen in each nebula, causing them to glow red.

The study’s principal investigator, Dr. Karin Sandstrom of the University of California, San Diego, said“The Small Magellanic Cloud has between a fifth and a tenth of the amount of heavy elements that the Milky Way does. Because it is so close, astronomers can study its dust in great detail and learn about what dust was like earlier in the history of the universe.”

“It is important for understanding the history of our galaxy, too. Most of the star formation happened earlier in the universe, at a time when there was a much lower percentage of heavy elements than there is now. Dust is a critical part of how a galaxy works, how it forms stars.”

The image is part of a study called Small Magellanic Cloud Investigation of Dust and Gas Evolution (SMIDGE). The data used in this image were taken with Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys in September 2015.

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When To See An ‘Earth-Grazer’ This Weekend: Don’t Write-Off The Perseid Meteor Shower, Says Expert – Forbes

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If you’ve ever laid down a blanket or set up a lawn chair to watch a meteor shower there’s a good chance it was to watch the Perseids.

Due to peak at 01:00 UT on Saturday, August 13, 2022, normal advice would be to be outside at that time (in Europe) or just as soon as its gets dark on Friday, August 12 (North America).

As I’ve already reported, this year the Perseids coincides with a full Moon, so all but the brightest meteors and “fireballs” (larger, brighter meteors) will be visible. So from the 50-75-or-so “shooting stars” you might normally see during the peak of the Perseids only a few—albeit bright—meteors will be visible.

It’s almost not worth the bother, I said, advising you to go watch this instead next weekend.

However, there is another opinion. In an article published on the American Meteor Society’s website, fireball coordinator Robert Lunsford says that despite the bright full Moon visible meteor rates during the peak of the Perseid meteor shower will be better than 95% of all other nights this year.

When to see the Perseid meteor shower

“Most of the Perseid meteors are faint and bright moonlight will make it difficult to view,” he writes. “Despite the glare of moonlight, the Perseids produce many bright meteors that can still be easily seen despite the bright moonlight.”

He also advises two great times to watch for shooting stars—just after sunset on Friday, August 12 and just before dawn on Saturday, August 13.

Perseids: ‘Earth-grazers’ just after sunset

You’ll need patience, but to see an “Earth-grazer” is unforgettable.

Just after sunset is actually thee worst time in terms of numbers of shooting stars you might see, but the few that do come your way this time of night are special.” The reason is that they just skim the upper regions of the atmosphere and will last much longer than Perseids seen during the morning hours,” writes Lunsford. “Most of these “earth-grazing” Perseids will be seen low in the east or west, traveling north to south.”

Perseids: ‘shooting stars’ before dawn

The activity from the Perseid meteor shower will peak where you are as the radiant—the constellation of Perseus—rises higher into the night sky. “Theoretically, the best time to watch the Perseids is just before the break of dawn when the radiant lies highest in a dark sky,” writes Lunsford. That’s about 04:00 local time, though he also reveals that experienced observers often say the hour between 03:00 and 04:00 is usually the best.

Perseids: ‘shooting stars’ in a moonless sky

If you want to look for Perseids in a dark, moonless sky then you’re mostly out of luck this year. By the time the full Moon is rising long after midnight the meteor rates will have vastly reduced, though it may be worth shooting star-gazing after August 19, 2022.

When is the Perseid meteor shower in 2023?

The Perseid meteor shower will next year peak—in thankfully moonless skies—at around 07:00 UT on August 13, 2023 (so 03:00 EST and midnight PST), which will be ideal for North America.

Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.

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Meet Qikiqtania, a fossil fish who stayed in the water while others ventured onto land – Big Think

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Approximately 365 million years ago, one group of fishes left the water to live on land. These animals were early tetrapods, a lineage that would radiate to include many thousands of species including amphibians, birds, lizards and mammals. Human beings are descendants of those early tetrapods, and we share the legacy of their water-to-land transition.

But what if, instead of venturing onto the shores, they had turned back? What if these animals, just at the cusp of leaving the water, had receded to live again in more open waters?

A new fossil suggests that one fish, in fact, did just that. In contrast to other closely related animals, which were using their fins to prop their bodies up on the bottom of the water and perhaps occasionally venturing out onto land, this newly discovered creature had fins that were built for swimming.

Tom Stewart holds the Qikiqtania fossil. (Stephanie Sang / CC BY-ND)

In March 2020, I was at The University of Chicago and a member of biologist Neil Shubin’s lab. I was working with Justin Lemberg, another researcher in our group, to process a fossil that was collected back in 2004 during an expedition to the Canadian Arctic.

From the surface of the rock it was embedded in, we could see fragments of the jaws, about 2 inches long (5 cm) and with pointed teeth. There were also patches of white scales with bumpy texture. The anatomy gave us subtle hints that the fossil was an early tetrapod. But we wanted to see inside the rock.

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So we used a technology called CT scanning, which shoots X-rays through the specimen, to look for anything that might be hidden within, out of view. On March 13, we scanned an unassuming piece of rock that had a few scales on top and discovered it contained a complete fin buried inside. Our jaws dropped. A few days later, the lab and campus shut down, and COVID-19 sent us into lockdown.

The fin revealed

A fin like this is extremely precious. It can give scientists clues into how early tetrapods were evolving and how they were living hundreds of millions of years ago. For example, based on the shape of certain bones in the skeleton, we can make predictions about whether an animal was swimming or walking.

Although that first scan of the fin was promising, we needed to see the skeleton in high resolution. As soon as we were allowed back on campus, a professor in the university’s department of the geophysical sciences helped us to trim down the block using a rock saw. This made the block more fin, less rock, allowing for a better scan and a closer view of the fin.

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When the dust had cleared and we’d finished analyzing data on the jaws, scales and fin, we realized that this animal was a new species. Not only that, it turns out that this is one of the closest known relatives to limbed vertebrates – those creatures with fingers and toes.

We named it Qikiqtania wakei. Its genus name, pronounced “kick-kiq-tani-ahh,” refers to the Inuktitut words Qikiqtaaluk or Qikiqtani, the traditional name for the region where the fossil was found. When this fish was alive, many hundreds of millions of years ago, this was a warm environment with rivers and streams. Its species name honors the late David Wake, a scientist and mentor who inspired so many of us in the field of evolutionary and developmental biology.

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Skeletons tell how an animal lived

Qikiqtania reveals a lot about a critical period in our lineage’s history. Its scales tell researchers unambiguously that it was living underwater. They show sensory canals that would have allowed the animal to detect the flow of water around its body. Its jaws tell us that it was foraging as a predator, biting and holding onto prey with a series of fangs and drawing food into its mouth by suction.

But it is Qikiqtania’s pectoral fin that is most surprising. It has a humerus bone, just as our upper arm does. But Qikiqtania’s has a very peculiar shape.

Early tetrapods, like Tiktaalik, have humeri that possess a prominent ridge on the underside and a characteristic set of bumps, where muscles attach. These bony bumps tell us that early tetrapods were living on the bottom of lakes and streams, using their fins or arms to prop themselves up, first on the ground underwater and later on land.

Qikiqtania’s humerus is different. It lacks those trademark ridges and processes. Instead, its humerus is thin and boomerang-shaped, and the rest of the fin is large and paddle-like. This fin was built for swimming.

Whereas other early tetrapods were playing at the water’s edge, learning what land had to offer, Qikiqtania was doing something different. Its humerus is truly unlike any others known. My colleagues and I think it shows that Qikiqtania had turned back from the water’s edge and evolved to live, once again, off the ground and in open water.

Evolution isn’t a march in one direction

Evolution isn’t a simple, linear process. Although it might seem like early tetrapods were trending inevitably toward life on land, Qikiqtania shows exactly the limitations of such a directional perspective. Evolution didn’t build a ladder towards humans. It’s a complex set of processes that together grow the tangled tree of life. New species form and they diversify. Branches can head off in any number of directions.

Neil Shubin, who found the fossil, pointing across the valley to the site where Qikiqtania was discovered on Ellesmere Island. (Neil Shubin / CC BY-ND)

This fossil is special for so many reasons. It’s not just miraculous that this fish was preserved in rock for hundreds of millions of years before being discovered by scientists in the Arctic, on Ellesmere Island. It’s not just that it’s remarkably complete, with its full anatomy revealed by serendipity at the cusp of a global pandemic. It also provides, for the first time, a glimpse of the broader diversity and range of lifestyles of fishes at the water-to-land transition. It helps researchers see more than a ladder and understand that fascinating, tangled tree.

Discoveries depend on community

Qikiqtania was found on Inuit land, and it belongs to that community. My colleagues and I were only able to conduct this research because of the generosity and support of individuals in the hamlets of Resolute Bay and Grise Fiord, the Iviq Hunters and Trappers of Grise Fiord, and the Department of Heritage and Culture, Nunavut. To them, on behalf of our entire research team, “nakurmiik.” Thank you. Paleontological expeditions onto their land have truly changed how we understand the history of life on Earth.

COVID-19 kept many paleontologists from traveling and visiting field sites across the world these last few years. We’re eager to return, to visit with old friends and to search again. Who knows what other animals lie hidden, waiting to be discovered inside blocks of unassuming stone.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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