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The Star Betelgeuse

Betelgeuse

Where is Betelgeuse located?

Betelgeuse is the tenth brightest star in the night sky and the second brightest star found in the constellation Orion, located at the eastern shoulder of the hunter.

At near-infrared wavelengths, however, the rust-colored star is the brightest star in the sky. Its brightness, position, and color make this star visible to the casual observer even though it is approximately 640 light-years from Earth.

Betelgeuse is one of the three stars that make up the Winter Triangle and can be seen rising in the east just after sunset at the beginning of January each year. It is also visual to everyone (except at latitudes south of 82 degrees) between mid-September to mid-March, with the best observations in mid-December.

  • Distance to Earth: 642.5 light-years
  • Radius: 617.1 million km (887 R☉)
  • Apparent magnitude (K): −4.05
  • Apparent magnitude (J): −3.00
  • Absolute magnitude (MV): −5.85
  • Coordinates: RA 5h 55m 10s | Dec +7° 24′ 26″

brightest stars in Orion

The Brightest Stars in the constellation Orion.

What is Betelgeuse named after?

The name Betelgeuse is known to be derived from Arabic words meaning ‘the giant’s shoulder’, ‘the armpit of Orion’ and/or ‘the hand of Orion’ and has four pronunciations of the name with ‘beetle juice’ being the most popular.

What type of star is Betelgeuse?

Betelgeuse is considered a red supergiant based on the size and temperature and appears orange-red in color because of its low temperature. Betelgeuse has evolved rapidly over time and is subject to increasing and/or decreasing in brightness due to changes in size and temperature.

In late 2019, it was reported that the brightness of Betelgeuse had decreased significantly and that it may be approaching supernova. More recently though, studies suggest that the star has stopped dimming and may actually be beginning to brighten.

Red supergiants however are stars that are close to the end of their life and it is estimated by astronomers that Betelgeuse might end its life in a supernova explosion in the next ten to hundred thousand years. When this happens, it will send its store of heavy elements into our galaxy.

Is Betelgeuse Bigger than the Sun?

The radius of Betelgeuse is thought to be around a thousand times greater than the sun and would reach beyond the orbit of Jupiter if it was placed at the center of our solar system. The following image by the European Southern Observatory shows the size comparison of Betelgeuse compared to the planets in our solar system.

Betelgeuse size comparison

This image was made using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). The overlaid annotation shows how large the star is compared to our Solar System. 

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