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You may want to avoid finding yourself in the vicinity of our nearest red giant star, Betelgeuse, if you are still around 5,000 years from now.
According to a recently published analysis by the Herschel Space Observatory, the massive supergiant star will slam into a wall of dust and debris 5,000 years from now, possibly triggering a supernova.
In a project funded in part by NASA, European Space Agency (ESA) officials captured a series of images of the star that seem to show the shedding, aging star is now located near an odd, linear bar of material. The wall of material, which agency officials noted remains largely a mystery, may come at a cost for the red giant star. ESA officials noted that it appears that Betelgeuse’s outer layer is already beginning to shed its outer layer, possibly a sign that it could go supernova in the coming years.
According to Herschel Space Observatory officials, the star’s outer layer is already beginning to interact with the mysterious wall of debris. Officials say they are currently planning a follow up observation in order to gain more information on the wall of dusty debris. Early theories had proposed that the bar was a result of matter ejected during a previous stage of the star’s evolution, however, the latest analysis seems to suggests that it is a separate object: either a linear filament linked to the galaxy’s magnetic field, or the edge of a nearby interstellar cloud that is being illuminated by Betelgeuse.
Astronomers have long predicted that the star will go supernova sometime over the coming million years or so. Betelgeuse – the nearest red supergiant to Earth – is about 1,000 times the diameter of our Sun, 100,000 times more bright. The star is one of the brightest in the night sky and can often been seen from Earth.
Whether the star’s head-on collision with the mysterious wall will indeed serve as a tipping point remains unclear. However, astronomers have long predicted that the supernova generated by Betelgeuse will create an amazing show for amateur astronomers of the future, noting that the leftover glow will be visible at all hours of day.
See the image here:
Image courtesy of the Herschel Space Observatory