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Betelgeuse, the star that might explode, poses for a glowing portrait

Astronomers snapped a view of the weirdly dim surface of the star that might (but probably won't) go supernova soon.

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ESO's Very Large Telescope snapped this view of dimming Betelgeuse's surface in December 2019.

ESO/M. Montargès et al.

We see you, Betelgeuse, and we can't look away.  Astronomers used a European Southern Observatory telescope in Chile to snap a view of Betelgeuse's surface and its "unprecedented dimming."

The red supergiant star that hangs out in the Orion constellation has been acting up lately, leading to speculation that it may go supernova soon.

The Very Large Telescope's Sphere instrument captured the surface image in December 2019 as the star noticeably lost brightness. Astronomers compared the portrait with one taken in January 2019 and it's plain to see Betelgeuse is having a bit of a brightness crisis.

These images show the surface of Betelgeuse in January 2019 and in December 2019 when it had dimmed.

ESO/M. Montargès et al.

While a supernova would be a spectacular sight, astronomers aren't counting on that happening

"The two scenarios we are working on are a cooling of the surface due to exceptional stellar activity or dust ejection towards us," said astronomer Miguel Montargès in an ESO statement on Friday. "Of course, our knowledge of red supergiants remains incomplete, and this is still a work in progress, so a surprise can still happen." 

The star is currently sitting at about 36% of its normal brightness, "a change noticeable even to the naked eye," ESO said.

Betelgeuse's fate is sealed. It will go supernova one day. That day will probably be tens of thousands of years in the future. Or maybe it will be tomorrow. We should know more about its odd behavior within the next few weeks.