What in the Universe: Betelgeuse

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What in the universe is this big orange blob?

Produced by the Space Telescope Science Institute’s Office of Public Outreach in collaboration with NASA’s Universe of Learning partners: Caltech/IPAC, Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Sonoma State University. 

  • ALMA image of Betelgeuse: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/E. O’Gorman/P. Kervella
  • Rutherford Observatory image of UY Scuti:  Haktarphone 
  • VLA images of Betelgeuse: ESO/M. Montargès et al.

Written by Margaret W. Carruthers 
Designed by Leah Hustak and Dani Player 
Subject matter expertise from Dr. Emily Levesque 
Editorial and design input from Dr. Quyen Hart and Yesenia Perez 
Music from Music for Nonprofits 


 Stars, constellations, a comet, clouds, Earth, a ringed planet, the solar system. 

Text, What in the Universe? 

What is this orange blob? 

A, an ancient galaxy 

B, a red supergiant star 

C, a hot exoplanet the size of Jupiter 

D, a disk of material surrounding a black hole 

B, a red supergiant star, is highlighted as the correct answer. 

Text, Betelgeuse, a resolved red supergiant star, Orion constellation 

An image of Betelgeuse in the upper right corner, or shoulder, of the Orion constellation. 

A 2015 image of Betelgeuse via the Atacama millimeter array, radio-wave light. 

Text, the image to the left shows Betelgeuse, a red supergiant star roughly 600 light-years from Earth. 

A dashed line outlines an image of Betelgeuse, which indicates it's similar to the size of Jupiter's orbit. 

Text, Unlike most stars, Betelgeuse is both large enough and close enough to resolve. 

That is, we can see the "surface" of the star. 

An image of many bright stars from UY Scuti, Large, but Far Away. 

Text, most stars appear only as single points of light, even with the most powerful telescopes. 

A January, 2019 image of Betelgeuse from the Very Large Telescope, visible light. 

Text, when a star is large and close enough to resolve, we can examine its structure and observe how it changes over time. 

A December, 2019 image of Betelgeuse from the Very Large Telescope, visible light, with a shadow across its lower half. 

Text, we can use what we learn to understand stars that are too far away to see in such detail. 

A split screen of the January and December, 2019, images of Betelgeuse from the Very Large Telescope, visible light, that display how it has dimmed in that time frame. 

Text, Betelgeuse is a young, massive star that is aging very quickly. 

Astronomers think that in the next hundred thousand years or so, it will exhaust all of its fuel and end its life in a spectacular supernova explosion. 

The ability to resolve stars like Betelgeuse provides us with a rare opportunity to capture details of the stellar aging process. 

The 2015 image of Betelgeuse via the Atacama Millimeter Array moves to the center of the screen. 

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