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What is Betelgeuse, the bright red giant star?

Betelgeuse, the bright red giant star

The bright red star Betelgeuse, called ‘Thiruvathirai’ or ‘Ardra’ in Indian astronomy, is easily spotted in the constellation Orion. Recent studies on the colossal red giant star Betelgeuse suggest that it is approaching the late stages of its life, specifically the carbon-burning phase, and there is a possibility that it will explode as a supernova within the next few decades. Stars are created from dense clouds of gas and dust known as nebulae. Through the process of nuclear fusion, they convert hydrogen into helium, producing energy and emitting light. As a star depletes its hydrogen fuel, it undergoes expansion and transforms into a red giant. During this phase, helium is fused into heavier elements such as carbon and oxygen.

Smaller stars, like our Sun, eventually shed their outer layers and form a dense remnant known as a white dwarf. However, larger stars experience a supernova explosion, where their cores collapse, resulting in the release of an enormous amount of energy. This explosion disperses heavy elements into space and can potentially lead to the formation of a neutron star or a black hole.

What is a red giant star?

A red giant star is a large, ageing star that has expanded and cooled down, causing it to appear red in colour. It occurs in the later stages of a star’s life cycle when it exhausts its hydrogen fuel and starts burning heavier elements. It is a red giant star located in the constellation Orion. It is one of the largest and brightest stars visible to the naked eye.

How have astronomers found the stage of Betelgeuse?

Astronomers have suggested the stage of the red giant star Betelgeuse by studying its pulsations. Betelgeuse undergoes periodic expansion and contraction (similar to a boiling pot releasing steam), causing variations in its brightness. By analysing these pulsations, researchers can infer the star’s current state.

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