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Betelgeuse II

Betelgeuse is a long way from home. The supergiant star probably was born in Orion OB1 — a region that’s given birth to many supergiants. Today, though, it’s a long way from there, and it’s moving farther by the second. And astronomers are still trying to explain how it was kicked out of its birthplace.

Betelgeuse is one of the biggest and most massive stars in our region of the galaxy. It’s moving through space at a speedy clip. It’s leaving a wake behind it like a ship racing across the sea. That makes it a runaway — a star that’s moving much faster than the other stars around it.

The leading idea says that Betelgeuse was born with an even more massive companion. It aged out quickly, then exploded as a supernova. Without the companion’s gravity to keep it in place, Betelgeuse went speeding away.

Another idea says Betelgeuse and a less-massive companion were kicked out by the gravity of other stars in their birthplace.

But Betelgeuse doesn’t have a companion today, so something must have happened to it. A team led by University of Texas astronomer Craig Wheeler suggested that Betelgeuse ate it. That would explain the star’s rapid rotation — it spins at about a quarter of the speed needed to rip it apart. It would also explain a set of rings of gas and dust that encircle the star.

The scenario is gaining support from other astronomers — suggesting a violent history for a supergiant.

More about Betelgeuse tomorrow.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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