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Birth of a Giant

December 29, 2016

Besides having a great name, Betelgeuse is one of the most impressive stars in the galaxy. It’s many times bigger and heavier than the Sun, and tens of thousands of times brighter. And it has an impressive fate: it will explode as a supernova; we’ll have more about that tomorrow.

But a recent study says it also has an impressive birth: The star was born with a cluster of other behemoths, many of which also will blast themselves to bits.

Researchers dug through the archives of a satellite that measured precise distances to more than a hundred thousand stars. From those observations, they made a 3-D map of the hottest, brightest stars within about 1600 light-years of Earth. The map revealed several streamers and clumps of these brilliant stars that hadn’t been noticed before.

One of those clumps stretches from Orion — the home of Betelgeuse — to nearby Taurus, so the researchers named it the “Taurion” association. Betelgeuse is near the edge of this clump, and it’s about the same distance as its other stars. Betelgeuse is also moving at the same speed and in the same direction as those stars. So the researchers suggested that the hunter’s bright shoulder was part of the same family — moving through the galaxy with some brilliant brothers and sisters.

Betelgeuse stands low in the east as night falls, and shines bright orange. The other stars of Orion stretch out to the right of Betelgeuse. The stars of Tau-rion stretch above it.


Script by Damond Benningfield


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