When a meteorological satellite is used to study stars

Image for the article titled Cause of Betelgeuse's loss of brightness confirmed thanks to a simple weather satellite

Image: IT’S

At the end of 2019, the ninth brightest star in the sky began to fade. The phenomenon was so spectacular that it was baptized as The Great Dimming, and astronomers feared that it was the prelude to a stellar collapse in supernova.

In March 2020, the dimming began to abate, but astronomers were unable to find an explanation until mid-2021. The dimming, which reached a staggering 40%, was caused by a double phenomenon. For one, the star released a massive amount of gas from an eruption in its southern hemisphere. The dark zone caused a dramatic reduction in the temperature of the star. On the other hand, the “burp” caused a cloud of dust and gas that further obscured the light of this.

Different teams of astronomers came to the same conclusion using data from different highly specialized instruments such as the Very Large Telescope of the European Southern Observatory. The fact is that a new study has just been published in Nature Astronomy which confirms the above. What is surprising about this new paper is that the researchers have been able to confirm the observations made by their colleagues using data from a rather unusual source: a weather satellite.

Himawari-8 is a Japanese weather satellite that has been in geostationary orbit since 2014. Its instruments examine Earth’s atmosphere in the infrared spectrum, but it turns out that part of the cosmos is also in the image, and the star Betelgeuse appears in it. Using historical data from Himawari-8, a team of researchers led by Daisuke Taniguchi has been able to detect The Great Dimming with an accuracy equivalent to that of much more complex astronomical instruments. And we are not only talking about the drop in temperature of the star. Himawari-8 is designed to detect water molecules in the atmosphere, but its instruments are so sensitive that they have allowed astronomers to also detect the dust cloud responsible for the rest of the dimming.

The study is not particularly relevant to Betelgeuse because it confirms what we already knew, but it is very relevant in the sense that Taniguchi and his colleagues have shown that meteorological satellites, due to their position and sensitivity, can add efforts to the study of the cosmos without having to to make any adjustments to them. You just have to study the data they already collect about your particular portion of the sky. [Nature Astronomy vía IFL Science]

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