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Go ahead, stare at the surface of the star Betelgeuse

A new ALMA telescope image of the massive star Betelgeuse lets you safely gaze upon its blazing-hot surface.

Betelgeuse is a bit of a hot mess. It's bright, but is expected to have a relatively short lifespan before going supernova.
ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/E. O'Gorman/P. Kervella

We all know better than to stare at the surface of a star. Fortunately, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope in Chile can safely do it for us. It recently turned its high-tech eyes to the star Betelgeuse, which can be found about 600 light-years away in the constellation of Orion. The ALMA image of its surface gives an intriguing look at one of the brightest stars in the night sky.

"This is the first time that ALMA has ever observed the surface of a star and this first attempt has resulted in the highest-resolution image of Betelgeuse available," says the European Southern Observatory, one of the groups that operates ALMA.

The ALMA image, released on Monday, is helping scientists study the star's extended atmosphere. The view highlights Betelgeuse's hot gases -- higher temperatures make the orange blob appear to bulge out in places.   

Betelgeuse is gigantic, sporting a radius 1,400 times that of our sun. That brightness comes with a trade-off in lifespan. "The star is just about 8 million years old," the ESO notes, "but is already on the verge of becoming a supernova."