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.
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.
A single photon reveals quantum entanglement of 16 million atoms
16.10.2017 | Université de Genève
On the generation of solar spicules and Alfvenic waves
16.10.2017 | Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC)
Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).
When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...
Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.
How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...
Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.
It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...
It's possible to produce hydrogen to power fuel cells by extracting the gas from seawater, but the electricity required to do it makes the process costly. UCF...
Mercury, our smallest planetary neighbor, has very little to call an atmosphere, but it does have a strange weather pattern: morning micro-meteor showers.
Recent modeling along with previously published results from NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft -- short for Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and...
10.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
28.09.2017 | Event News
16.10.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
16.10.2017 | Earth Sciences
16.10.2017 | Physics and Astronomy