Sunday 20 August 2017

Irish scientist behind trailblazing image of giant star Betelgeuse

An artist’s impression of Betelgeuse, a star 1,000 times bigger than our Sun
An artist’s impression of Betelgeuse, a star 1,000 times bigger than our Sun
Gareth Morgan

Gareth Morgan

The most detailed image of another star that isn't our own Sun has been captured in pioneering work by an Irish astronomer.

Dr Eamon O'Gorman led an international team to create the image of Betelgeuse using ALMA, the world's largest radio telescope.

Betelgeuse is the famous Red Supergiant star located in the Orion constellation, and the team discovered that the temperature in its inner atmosphere is not uniform. This could help explain how these stars are heated and ultimately how new stars are formed.

Dr O'Gorman is an Irish Research Council Scholar and astronomer at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies,

He said: "ALMA now provides us with the capabilities to image surface features on nearby stars while also directly measuring the temperature of these features.

"We have known for decades that the visible surface of Betelgeuse is not uniform, but ALMA has now shown us in detail that the temperature in its inner atmosphere is also not uniform. It looks like these temperature fluctuations could be caused by magnetic fields, similar to what we see on the Sun, our nearest star."

The clearest image yet obtained of the star
The clearest image yet obtained of the star

Dr Pierre Kervella, astronomer at the Paris Observatory, added: "Located about 650 light years away, Betelgeuse is certainly not the closest star to our solar system, but its sheer size makes it an ideal target to image directly with ALMA.

"When we look at the night sky with our naked eyes, we see bright stars everywhere, but because they are so small, even the most powerful telescopes in the world struggle to image their surfaces. Our results show ALMA has the capability to image the surfaces of the largest stars in detail."

In terms of size, Betelgeuse is approximately 1,400 times larger than our Sun, and more than one billion times larger in terms of volume.

Dr Eamon O’Gorman of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies
Dr Eamon O’Gorman of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies

Irish Independent

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