Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day we feature a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

January 22, 1996

Betelgeuse, Betelgeuse, Betelgeuse
Credit: A. Dupree (CfA), R. Gilliland (STScI), NASA, ESA

Explanation: Betelgeuse (sounds a lot like "beetle juice"), a red supergiant star about 600 lightyears distant, is shown here in this Hubble Space Telescope image which represents the first direct picture of the surface of a star other than the Sun. While Betelgeuse is cooler than the Sun, it is more massive and over 1000 times larger - if placed at the centre of our Solar System, it would extend past the orbit of Jupiter. This image reveals a bright, as yet unexplained hotspot on its surface. Betelgeuse is also known as Alpha Orionis, one of the brightest stars in the familar constellation of Orion, the Hunter. Like many star names, Betelgeuse is Arabic in origin. It is derived from a phrase which refers to the hunter's shoulder or armpit, the general area occupied by this star in drawings of the figure in the constellation. As a massive red supergiant, it is nearing the end of its life and will soon become a supernova.

Tomorrow's picture: Beneath Jupiter's Clouds

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
NASA Technical Rep.: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
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&: Michigan Tech. U.