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January 23, 2013

Betelgeuse Hurtles Toward Massive Collision

by VOA News

A new photo of the star Betelgeuse reveals dramatic events unfolding a mere 643 light years away from Earth.

The photo, which provides the far-infrared view of the star, shows arc-shaped waves of solar wind crashing against the interstellar medium. Those waves, scientists estimate, are moving at 30 kilometers per second. The photo was released January 22 by the European Space Agency’s [ESA] Herschel space observatory.

According to a release by the ESA, the waves appear to be heading toward a collision with “an intriguing dusty wall” [the line to the left of the photo] in about 5,000 years. The wall, according to the agency, is either part of the Galaxy’s magnetic field or the edge of a nearby interstellar cloud.

Inside the arcs, a roiling cloud of red likely is clumpy debris ejected from the star sometime in the past.

While the light show on Betelgeuse certainly is captivating, it’s all coming to an end in the very near future, at least in terms of the cosmic clock. The star is heading toward a spectacular supernova sometime in the next few million years.

Betelgeuse - the nearest red supergiant to Earth - is about 1,000 times the diameter of our Sun, 100,000 times more bright and can be seen from Earth with the naked eye. 

The star rides the shoulder of the constellation Orion the Hunter, as an orange-red star above and to the left of Orion’s belt.