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Giant Star Betelgeuse May Have Consumed a Sun-Size Companion

    Meril Jeffery John.J
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    By Meril Jeffery John.J
    Giant Star Betelgeuse May Have Consumed a Sun-Size Companion

    The huge, red star Betelgeuse, which marks the hunter's shoulder in the constellation Orion, may have swallowed up a companion star not long ago, a new study suggests.

    Someday Betelgeuse will explode as a supernova. It's roughly 650 light-years away — and when it goes, it'll be spectacular.

    But astronomers can't estimate when that might happen, because virtually everything known about this star is uncertain. Its surface temperature, mass, luminosity, and even its distance aren't pinned down very well.

    New research posits that the huge star, which has a diameter of 600 million miles, was once two stars -- until the larger star ate its smaller companion.

    The star has a faster than normal rotational rate and is what's known as a runaway star, meaning that it is zooming along at 67,000 miles per hour.

    Such an enormous star should be spinning slowly, since rotation rate decreases as size increases. But that's not the case with Betelgeuse, which is rotating at a blazing 33,500 mph (53,900 km/h), astronomers said.

    "We cannot account for the rotation of Betelgeuse," study lead author J. Craig Wheeler, an astronomer at the University of Texas at Austin, said in a statement. "It's spinning 150 times faster than any plausible single star just rotating and doing its thing."

    But Wheeler and his colleagues may have an answer. Their computer models suggest that Betelgeuse's puzzling spin could be explained if the giant gobbled up a companion roughly the same mass as the sun 100,000 years or so ago.

    According to Wheeler's team, one "out" could be that Betelgeuse formed as part of a binary system and that it gobbled up a 1-solar-mass companion while ballooning to its present size.

    “Suppose Betelgeuse had a companion when it was first born," he muses in a University of Texas press release. "And let’s just suppose it is orbiting around Betelgeuse at an orbit about the size that Betelgeuse is now. And then Betelgeuse turns into a red supergiant and absorbs it — swallows it."

    Actually, this hypothesis isn't far-fetched. Most beefy stars, those in spectral classes O or B, do form as binaries, and there's a 1-in-5 chance that the massive, solitary stars seen today are actually mergers of two paired suns into one.

    Betelgeuse lies about 640 light-years from the sun. Like other supergiants, it will die young; the star is only about 10 million years old. The sun, by contrast, is nearly 4.6 billion years old and is only about halfway through its life.

    The next step for the Betelgeuse Project will be to be to probe the star's interior using a technique called asteroseismology. This might reveal, for instance, whether a relatively dense, undissolved remnant of the sacrificial companion lies within the star's enormous volume.

     

    Meril Jeffery John.J

    Meril Jeffery John.J

    If This is God's Will then no man can Fight it

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