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Today, astronomers know that Betelgeuse varies in brightness because it’s a dying, red supergiant star
Betelgeuse. Betelgeuse. Betelgeuse.
"We see this all the time in red supergiants, and it's a normal part of their life cycle," said astronomer Emily Levesque of the University of Washington.
"Red supergiants will occasionally shed material from their surfaces, which will condense around the star as dust. As it cools and dissipates, the dust grains will absorb some of the light heading toward us and block our view."
According to the abundance they found, Betelgeuse's temperature is around 3,325 degrees Celsius (6,017 Fahrenheit). That's consistent both with a measurement taken by the team in 2004; and with a measurement of 3,317 degrees Celsius taken in 2011.
It's also significantly warmer than would be expected for convection processes.
"A comparison with our 2004 spectrum showed immediately that the temperature hadn't changed significantly," explained astronomer Phillip Massey of Lowell Observatory.
"We knew the answer had to be dust."