Betelgeuse To Momentarily Disappear Due To Passing Asteroid

11th Dec 2023
Betelgeuse To Momentarily Disappear Due To Passing Asteroid

On 12th December, one of the brightest and most visible stars in Earth’s sky, Betelgeuse, will momentarily be overshadowed by a passing asteroid. The extremely rare event will be shared with the world via The Virtual Telescope Project when they livestream the observation. A number of factors will impact how invisible – and for how long – Betelgeuse will flicker out of sight, but astronomers are predicting the event may last upwards of a few seconds. 

“This kind of occultations are very useful to constrain the shape of the asteroid involved. Here, we hope to even investigate the surface of the involved star, too: Betelgeuse. It is a large red supergiant and while Leona will move in front of it as seen from Earth, we will be hopefully able to learn more about its large convective cells, driving its variable brightness,” Gianluca Masi, an astrophysicist and Director of the Virtual Telescope Project, said

Where To Watch The Occultation Event

The disappearance will occur due to Betelgeuse being covered by passing asteroid called Leona. When the asteroid eclipses the giant star – referred to as an occultation – scientists will be watching closely as Betelgeuse: “is one of the best candidates for a future supernova event,” Masi said. 

How Earth views the event will depend on a number of factors. Firstly, the angle of the star will either assist or hinder the occlusion. Secondly, the asteroid and its positioning will also play a similar role. However, Masi added that none of the aforementioned details are known. Finally, the position of Earth will also have a part to play: “to the point that this event is only visible from a very narrow strip of our planet”.

Poised to be a “mind-blowing” event, observations of Betelgeuse will be live streamed on The Virtual Telescope Project’s (VTP) website. To watch, VTP said to click the following link on 12th December at 1:00 UTC. It may also be streamed on their social media channels – however, this is yet to be confirmed. In addition to live streaming the event from Southern Italy, VTP said they will gather data for further analysis.

Why Is Betelgeuse’s Occultation Important?

Described as the “right shoulder” of the Orion constellation – visible to Earth from the left – Betelgeuse is a supergiant red star. To date, it is one of the brightest and biggest stars ever discovered. It glimmers a tinted orange glow, 700 light-years from Earth. 

NASA said Betelgeuse is approximately 10 million years of age and towers over the Milky Way’s Sun. However, due to its size, Betelgeuse is burning expeditiously and is expected to explode in a cataclysmic supernova event.

Earlier observations engendered thoughts of whether Betelgeuse was in a pre-supernova state due to its light slightly fading. But, it quickly regained its shine and Hubble identified that the dimming was due to a burst of energy. 

Nevertheless, astronomers are debating whether Betelgeuse will be enveloped in an imminent supernova. Currently, scientists are unsure when Betelgeuse’s death event may take place. “So the importance of the upcoming occultation is undoubtedly extremely high,” Masi concluded. 

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