Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Unveiling the true face of a gigantic star

11.08.2009
An international team of astronomers, led by Keiichi Ohnaka at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy (MPIfR) in Bonn, has made the most high resolution images of a dying giant star to date.

For the first time they could show how the gas is moving in different areas over the surface of a distant star. This was made possible by combining three 1.8 metre telescopes as an interferometer, giving the astronomers the resolving power of a virtual, gigantic 48 metre telescope.

Using the ESO VLT Interferometer in Chile, they discovered that the gas in the dying star's atmosphere is vigorously moving up and down, but the size of such "convection cell or bubble" is as large as the star itself. These colossal bubbles are a key for pushing material out of the star's atmosphere into space, before the star explodes as a supernova. (Astronomy & Astrophysics, 2009, in press).

When one looks up at the clear night sky in winter, it is easy to spot a bright, orange star on the shoulder of the constellation Orion (the Hunter) even in light-flooded large cities. This is the star Betelgeuse. It is a gigantic star, which is so huge as to almost reach the orbit of Jupiter, swallowing the inner planets Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars, when placed at the centre of our solar system. It is also glaringly bright, emitting 100 000 times more light than the Sun. Betelgeuse is a so-called red supergiant and approaching the end of its short life of several million years. Red supergiants shed a large amount of material made of various molecules and dust, which are recycled for the next generation of stars and planets possibly like the Earth. Betelgeuse is losing material equivalent to the Earth's mass every year.

How do such giant stars lose mass, which would normally be bound to the star by the gravitational pull? This is a long-standing mystery. The best way to tackle this issue is to observe the situation where the material is ejected from a star's surface, but this is a very challenging task. Although Betelgeuse is such a huge star, it looks like a mere reddish dot even with the today's largest, 8 - 10 metre telescopes, because the star is 640 light years away.

Therefore, astronomers need a special technique to overcome this problem. By combining two or more telescopes as a so-called interferometer, astronomers can achieve a much higher resolution than provided with individual telescopes. The Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI) on Cerro Paranal in Chile, operated by the European Southern Observatory (ESO), is one of the world's largest interferometer. A team of astronomers in German, French, and Italian institutions observed Betelgeuse with the AMBER instrument operating at near-infrared wavelengths. The resolving power achieved with AMBER is so great that one can recognize a 1-Euro coin placed on the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin from Bonn.

"Our AMBER observations mark the sharpest images ever made of Betelgeuse", says Keiichi Ohnaka at the MPIfR, the first author of the publication presenting the result. "And for the first time, we have spatially resolved the gas motion in the atmosphere of a star other than the Sun. Thus, we could observe how the gas is moving in different areas over the star's surface."

The AMBER observations have revealed that the gas in Betelgeuse's atmosphere is moving vigorously up and down. The size of these "bubbles" is also gigantic, as large as the supergiant star itself (that is, one bubble as large as the orbit of Mars is moving at some 40 000 km/h). While the origin of these bubbles is not yet entirely clear, the AMBER observations have shed new light on the question about how red supergiant stars lose mass: such colossal bubbles can expel the material from the surface of the star into space. It also means that the material is not spilling out in a quiet, ordered fashion, but is flung out more violently in arcs or clumps.

The death of the gigantic star, which is expected in the next few thousand to hundred thousand years, will be accompanied by cosmic fireworks known as a supernova like the famous SN1987A. However, as Betelgeuse is much closer to the Earth than SN1987A, the supernova can be clearly seen with the unaided eye, even in daylight.

Original work:

K. Ohnaka, K.-H. Hofmann, M. Benisty, A. Chelli, T. Driebe, F. Millour, R. Petrov, D. Schertl, Ph. Stee, F. Vakili, G. Weigelt

Spatially resolving the inhomogeneous structure of the dynamical atmosphere of Betelgeuse with VLTI/AMBER

Astronomy & Astrophysics, 2009, in press.

Dr. Norbert Junkes | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.mpg.de
http://www.mpifr.de

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Scientific achievements during the operation of Lomonosov satellite
18.12.2017 | Lomonosov Moscow State University

nachricht Quantum memory with record-breaking capacity based on laser-cooled atoms
18.12.2017 | Faculty of Physics University of Warsaw

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Error-free into the Quantum Computer Age

A study carried out by an international team of researchers and published in the journal Physical Review X shows that ion-trap technologies available today are suitable for building large-scale quantum computers. The scientists introduce trapped-ion quantum error correction protocols that detect and correct processing errors.

In order to reach their full potential, today’s quantum computer prototypes have to meet specific criteria: First, they have to be made bigger, which means...

Im Focus: Search for planets with Carmenes successful

German and Spanish researchers plan, build and use modern spectrograph

Since 2016, German and Spanish researchers, among them scientists from the University of Göttingen, have been hunting for exoplanets with the “Carmenes”...

Im Focus: First-of-its-kind chemical oscillator offers new level of molecular control

DNA molecules that follow specific instructions could offer more precise molecular control of synthetic chemical systems, a discovery that opens the door for engineers to create molecular machines with new and complex behaviors.

Researchers have created chemical amplifiers and a chemical oscillator using a systematic method that has the potential to embed sophisticated circuit...

Im Focus: Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportation

MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.

Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...

Im Focus: Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake

Detailed calculations show water cloaks are feasible with today's technology

Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Single-photon detector can count to 4

18.12.2017 | Information Technology

Quantum memory with record-breaking capacity based on laser-cooled atoms

18.12.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

How much soil goes down the drain -- New data on soil lost due to water

18.12.2017 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>