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The uncertainty of science: New data of the red giant star Betelgeuse says that the star simply doesn’t have the energy to eject the large amount of gas it routinely blows into space.
“[W]e now have a problem”, says Graham Harper, an astrophysicist at the University of Colorado Boulder. “If you’re going to eject matter you have to put energy in, and we’re not seeing that.” Harper and his colleagues used the US–German Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), a 2.5-metre telescope that flies in a modified Boeing 747 aeroplane, to take Betelgeuse’s temperature. They found that the star’s upper atmosphere was much cooler than expected — so cool, in fact, that it doesn’t seem to have enough energy to kick gas out of its gravitational pull and into space.
“This challenges all our theoretical models,” Harper said on 7 January at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Kissimmee, Florida. [emphasis mine]
The data suggests the temperature of the ejected gas to be only about 512 degrees Fahrenheit. This is far too cool to fit any theory for explaining the vast amounts of gas that the star routinely puffs into space. It also suggests, not surprisingly, that scientists do not yet have a enough information to develop a clear understanding of stellar evolution. They have enough information to form rough theories, but there is still much too much they do not know.