The star Alpha Orionis, also known as Betelgeuse, is among the 12 brightest seen from Earth, but, on December 11th, it will disappear for a few hours. It will not be seen because an asteroid will pass between it and our planet.
The phenomenon will begin at 10:17 pm (Brasília time), but it will not be visible from Brazil – it will only be visible in a narrow band of the planet that includes Central Asia, southeastern Europe, Florida (in the United States) and Mexico.
For astronomers, it will be a rare opportunity to study the star and the asteroid – this one, called 319 Leona. By collecting accurate data on the duration of occultation (the time the star is covered by the asteroid), it will be possible to determine its size and shape.
As 319 Leona moves, it will pass through so-called convection cells, responsible for the increase and decrease in the star’s brightness, and astronomers will try to identify the distribution of these cells.
The star Betelgeuse is a very large, luminous and cool star classified as a red supergiant of spectral type M1-2 Ia-ab. Red supergiants are massive stars that are in the last stages of their evolution. They consume their fuel quickly and live for only a few million years.
Betelgeuse has already consumed all the hydrogen in its core. It is likely that Betelgeuse is currently fusing helium to generate carbon and oxygen in the core, with a hydrogen fusion shell surrounding the core. Within some time it will collapse, generating a supernova.
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