Astronomers Capture a Detailed Image of the Distant Star Antares

Saturday, 26 August 2017 - 5:06PM
Space
Astronomy
Saturday, 26 August 2017 - 5:06PM
Astronomers Capture a Detailed Image of the Distant Star Antares
ESO
For the most part, the only star that astronomers have gotten a detailed look at is our own Sun (even if they can't look directly at it without equipment). 

But the European Southern Observatory, using their aptly-named Very Large Telescope, have recently captured some detailed images of the red supergiant Antares, located in the Scorpius constellation. Taking a blurry starting image, ESO then mapped out what they believed to be Antares' layout, and put together a detailed artist's rendering based on the odd bright spots they found.

All of their research was published in Nature, although they posted some of their findings to YouTube as well (included below). Antares is about 550 light years away from the Sun, although some estimates vary. But it's also thought to be between 15 to 18 times the Sun's mass and over 700 times its size, so it isn't the most difficult target to map out like this. But that makes it no less striking to see, of course.

Here's the full video from ESO, which contains the original image and the artist's rendering based on their findings:



If you want another reference point for "over 700 times the Sun's size," think of it like this: if the Sun was replaced by Antares, the supergiant's surface would easily swallow the Earth and expand past Mars. So when you look at the blurry image and the more detailed recreation, keep that sense of scale in mind.

However, as a red supergiant, Antares is approaching the end of its life cycle, and it's rapidly losing its mass. Astronomer Keiichi Ohnaka, lead author of the Nature paper, explained in a statement:

Opening quote
"How stars like Antares lose mass so quickly in the final phase of their evolution has been a problem for over half a century. [VLT is] the only facility that can directly measure the gas motions in the extended atmosphere of Antares - a crucial step towards clarifying this problem. The next challenge is to identify what's driving the turbulent motions."
Closing quote


You can see the unaltered image above, but you can see a fancy artist's rendering below. It'll be awhile before we can take real images of Antares this detailed, but there's 550 light years between us and that, so you'll have to cut the Very Large Telescope some slack.


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