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Betelgeuse as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. Photo: NASA/ESA/CfA/STScI

Betelgeuse — the red supergiant star — spit out a huge mass of hot gas and plasma that made it look like it had dimmed significantly from Earth's perspective at the end of 2019 and earlier this year, according to new research.

The big picture: Betelgeuse is one of the brightest stars in the night sky and astronomers keep a close watch on it, with the expectation that it may one day explode as a supernova.

  • That explosion could provide an amazing scientific opportunity to study one of these extreme phenomena from close range.

Details: The Hubble Space Telescope observed extremely hot and dense material moving through the atmosphere of Betelgeuse from September to November of last year, according to NASA.

  • The hot material burst from the star, which is in the constellation Orion's shoulder.
  • Once that material was far enough away from Betelgeuse it cooled, forming dust that obscured the supergiant and making it seem dim from Earth, according to the new study in The Astrophysical Journal.
  • "This material was two to four times more luminous than the star's normal brightness," Andrea Dupree, an author of the study, said in a statement. "And then, about a month later, the south part of Betelgeuse dimmed conspicuously as the star grew fainter. We think it is possible that a dark cloud resulted from the outflow that Hubble detected."

What's next: Scientists aren't yet sure if the outburst could be a sign that the star is going to explode anytime soon, and according to recent observations from NASA's STEREO spacecraft, the star appears to be dimming again.

  • "No one knows what a star does right before it goes supernova, because it's never been observed," Dupree added. "Astronomers have sampled stars maybe a year ahead of them going supernova, but not within days or weeks before it happened. But the chance of the star going supernova anytime soon is pretty small."

Go deeper

36 mins ago - World

Netanyahu campaigns against Biden's plan to save Iran deal

Netanyahu campaigns at a gym last month. Photo: Pool/AFP via Getty

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indirectly criticized the Biden administration for its intention to return to the Iran nuclear deal and told his supporters he was prepared to "stand against the entire world" to stop it.

Why it matters: This is a major change of tune for Netanyahu, who had been careful in his statements on the Iran deal and avoided publicly criticizing President Biden. The statement was part of Netanyahu's attempt to rally his base ahead of Israel's election on March 23.

Updated 59 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Tech: "Fludemic" model accurately maps COVID hotspotsVirtual doctor's visits and digital health tools take off.
  2. Politics: Schumer says Senate will stay through weekend to vote on COVID relief — Republican governor of West Virginia says there's no plan to lift mask mandate.
  3. World: Canada vaccine panel recommends 4 months between doses.
  4. Business: Firms develop new ways to inoculate the public.
  5. Local: Ultra-rich Florida community got vaccinations in January.
Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
2 hours ago - Economy & Business

Why fears of a SPAC bubble may be overblown

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The SPAC surge continues unabated, with 10 new ones formed since Wednesday morning. And that's OK.

Between the lines: There are growing concerns that retail investors are about to get rolled, with smart sponsors taking advantage of dumb money.