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Red supergiant star Betelgeuse set for collision with strange bar — Will it explode?

According to a new report released by the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Herschel Space Observatory, the massive supergiant star Betelgeuse is slated for a collision with a wall of dust.

According to astronomers, both the star and its arc-shaped shields could collide with a “strange” dust bar over the course of the next five thousand years. The report notes that the shedding, aging star is located near an odd, linear bar of material that has yet to be identified, and that current projections place it on course to intercept the wall.

“If the bar is a completely separate object, then taking into account the motion of Betelgeuse and its arcs and the separation between them and the bar, the outermost arc will collide with the bar in just 5,000 years, with the red supergiant star itself hitting the bar roughly 12,500 years later,” ESA researchers said in a statement announcing the discovery.

The newly captured image from Herschel shows the star’s winds are already impacting the surrounding interstellar medium, creating a bow shock as the star moves through space at speeds of around 30 km/s. Meanwhile, the star itself is locked in an inner envelope of material that seems to show a pronounced asymmetric structure.  The series of broken, dusty arcs around the star, and ahead of the direction of its motion, testify to a turbulent history of mass loss in past years.

The star, which makes up the shoulder of the constellation Orion the Hunter, is widely seen as having a high potential to go supernova in the next thousand years. It remains unclear whether the star’s collision with the strange dust bar could trigger an explosion. Roughly 1,000 times the diameter of our sun and shining 100,000 times more brightly, Betelgeuse is likely on its way to a spectacular supernova explosion.

Researchers from several European universities combined data from Herschel and the GALEX space observatory to study Betelgeuse and its environment.