(ORDO NEWS) — The sudden blackout of one of the brightest stars in the night sky, Betelgeuse, is due to a cloud of dust erupting from its surface, astronomers said.
The huge star – part of the constellation Orion – began to lose luminosity in October last year, and some experts speculated that this could portend a supernova explosion.
But researchers working with the Hubble Telescope now have a clearer picture of how super-hot plasma is released from the surface of a star, cools in the outer layers of the atmosphere, and eventually turns to dust.
“The resulting cloud has blocked light from about a quarter of the star’s surface,” the European Space Agency said in a statement. Since then, the star has returned to its normal brightness.
“With the Hubble telescope, we see material leaving the visible surface of a star and exiting through the atmosphere before the dust formed, causing the star to fade,” said lead researcher Andrea Dupree of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
“We saw the effect of a dense hot region moving in the southeastern part of the star.”
Researchers, who published their findings in The Astrophysical Journal, however, said they were unsure of the true cause of the plasma eruption.
Betelgeuse, which is almost 1,000 times the size of the Sun, is 725 light years from Earth, which means that the telescope-recorded event took place around the beginning of the 14th century.
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