Betelgeuse, are you ready for your closeup?

Well, it’s not really a closeup.  More like a paparazzi telephoto image.  But one heck of a telephoto.  This is the newest image of Betelgeuse, a red supergiant star about 640 lightyears away.  It appears in the constellation of Orion, a visibly reddish star conspicuous at Orion’s shoulder, visible even in most large cities as it’s one of the brightest stars in the night sky.  It’s a complicated and active star, varying in brightness and color over time (some ancient records describe it as yellowish, which may mean it evolved to the red supergiant phase during human history), and previous imaging efforts have revealed it to be surprisingly asymmetrical and surrounded by a vast cloud of its puffy outer atmosphere, making direct observation and measurement of its photosphere impossible.   The latest image shows its still as lumpy as ever:

Taken by the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA), this is not a photograph in the normal sense.  This image was produced using radio waves.  It adds considerably to the body of knowledge about Betelgeuse however.

This was not the first time Betelgeuse had been imaged, nor will it be the last — this is not the closest star, but it’s so massive and luminous that it’s nevertheless the easiest one (other than our own sun) to photograph.  Here’s its first image as anything other than a point of light, taken by Hubble just over twenty years ago:

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