Giant star Betelgeuse may have devoured sun-size companion

This composite photo of the red supergiant Betelgeuse combines images from the Herschel space observatory at wavelengths of 70, 100 and 160 microns.

The large red star Betelgeuse , which marks the hunter’s shoulder in the constellation Orion, can be swallowed up by a companion star not long ago, a new study suggests.

Betelgeuse is a red supergiant star” that will soon die in a supernova explosion. As the name of the stellar class, Betelgeuse has blown up huge as the end of his life approached. Although Betelgeuse’s mass is only 15 to 25 times that of the sun, the star is currently about 860 million miles across, or 1000 times larger than the Earth and the stars. (If you Betelgeuse in the location of the sun, the red star surface, past the orbit of Mars and in the asteroid belt.)

Such a massive star should rotate slowly, since the rotation speed decreases as the size increases. (Think about how skaters have their rotational speed by bringing their arms close to their body or extending them.) But that is not the case with the Betelgeuse, which is rotating at a burning 33,500 mph, astronomers said.

“We can’t account for the rotation of Betelgeuse,” study lead author J. Craig Wheeler, an astronomer at the University of Texas in Austin, said in a statement. “It runs 150 times faster than any plausible one star is just to turn up and do his thing.”

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But Wheeler and his colleagues may have an answer. Their computer models suggest that Betelgeuse’s puzzling spin could be explained as the giant swallowed a companion of about the same mass as the sun 100,000 years or so ago. (The angular momentum of the facilitator the job would be transferred to Betelgeuse, the speed of the giant’s rotation to the current rate.)

This act of cannibalism would probably have led to a cosmic belch of sorts, allowing Betelgeuse to blast a cloud of material in space at around 22,400 mph, Wheeler said. Indeed, the astronomers saw a shell of matter at about the distance of Betelgeuse, this scenario predicts, he added.

But there are other possible explanations for this space, cloud, “the fact is, there is evidence that Betelgeuse had a kind of commotion on approximately this time scale,” Wheeler said.

Betelgeuse is approximately 640 light years from the sun. Like other supergiants, the young will die; the star is only about 10 million years old. The sun, on the other hand, is almost 4.6 billion years old and is only about halfway through his life.

The new study was published on Dec. 19 in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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