Astronomer J. Craig Wheeler of the University of Texas at Austin believes that Betelgeuse, a bright red star marking the shoulder of Orion, the hunter, may have had a past that is more interesting than it seems at first glance.
Working with an international group of student students, Wheeler found evidence that the red supergiant star might have been born with a companion star, and then swallowed this star.
The study was published on December 19 in the Journal of Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
For such a famous star, Betelgeus is mysterious. Astronomers know that this is a red supergiant, a massive star that is approaching the end of its life and is so inflated many times its original size.
One day it will explode like a supernova, but no one knows when.
“It could be in ten thousand years, or it could be tomorrow night,” said Wheeler, a supernova expert.
A new key to the future Betelgeuse assumes its rotation. When the star puffs up to become a supergiant, its rotation should slow down. “It’s like a classic rotating ice cloth, in which it draws in weapons, but opens its arms,” Wheeler said. When the skater opens his hands, she slows down.
Similarly, if the rotation of Betelgeuse slowed down as the star expanded. But this is not the team that Wheeler found.
The infrared images taken by Betelgeuse in 2012 by Len Decin from the University of Leuven in Belgium with the Herschel orbital telescope show two shells of the interacting substance on one side of Betelgeuse.
No one knows the origin with certainty. But “the thing is,” Wheeler said, “there is evidence that Betelgeuse had some kind of excitement about this time scale,” that is, 100,000 years ago, when the star expanded to a red supergiant.
The swallowed theory of the companion could explain both the rapid rotation of Betelgeuse and the neighboring matter.