Inverse Daily

Red supergiant Betelgeuse: The biggest mystery in space in the last few years has been solved

Plus: Remember Space Force?

Betelgeuse, the red giant, the 10th brightest star in the night sky and one of the easiest to see with the naked eye, is about 20 times the size of the Sun. If you’re looking at the constellation Orion, the massive orange star is the right armpit.

But in the last few years, the star had been dimming. Scientists couldn’t figure out why exactly. There were theories that massive clouds of dust were blocking its light. Other theories were literally explosive. Was the star going to go supernova and explode as the gravity pushing in on the star collided with the heat pushing out?

A new study published this week in the journal Nature explains what was happening to this star that humans have been gazing upon for as long as there have been humans. It’s our lead story today. Keep scrolling to read more.

I’m Nick Lucchesi, an editor at Inverse, and this is Inverse Daily, your daily dispatch of essential stories that mix science and culture.

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Mailbag — Keep sending your stories about national parks. This month the administration of President Joe Biden announced it would restore protections to the Tongass National Forest in Alaska to keep its trees shielded from loggers and road construction. (The protections were stripped away during the administration of Biden’s predecessor.) With that news in mind, and with vacation season upon us, what is your favorite national park and why? It can be in the United States or elsewhere. Send your answer to newsletter@inverse.com, or if you’re reading this in your inbox, just reply to this email.

Here are two of my favorites:

Sharing beers and just being super chill — “Kruger National Park in South Africa itself is not only one of the oldest parks in the world but is also pretty big (around the size of New Jersey). The wildlife is wonderful and there’s a real camaraderie between visitors; telling each other where good sightings are, sharing beers, and just being super chill. Mana Pools in Zimbabwe is very, very wild. The sort of place where you pitch a tent wherever you are and know you won’t see another human. Try not to stare into the night, as you’ll often see the eyes of animals staring back at you. (PSA: Hyenas are much bigger in person.) — Dovi in South Africa

Makes you feel so alive — “I live in a small coastal town in Oregon with the most natural beauty in the U.S. The true National Park in Oregon is Crater Lake! Magnificent! I have visited in the fall before the snow hits and in May when there were walls of snow about 15 feet high. Both times it was amazing although a bit more fun in the summer/fall. Love the views and the trails! Also, I have to admit that I truly enjoyed listening to the park rangers describing the flora and fauna of Crater Lake. They could really capture the essence and make you feel so alive from the beginning of how the Lake was formed until the present day. I can't wait to go again to learn more!” — Kate in Oregon

This is an adapted version of the Inverse Daily newsletter for June 17, 2021. Subscribe for free and earn rewards for reading every day in your inbox.

Betelgeuse is a red supergiant and the 10th brightest star in the night sky. Javier Zayas Photography/Moment/Getty Images

A modern cosmic mystery More than a year after Betelgeuse's great dimming event, scientists have finally figured out what happened to cause this star to lose its brightness, reports Passant Rabie:

Miguel Montargès recalls looking up at the sky at the age of 8 and recognizing his first star, Betelgeuse.

So when claims that Betelgeuse was on the verge of an explosive death began circulating in late 2019, Montargès, a researcher at the Paris Observatory, was not ready to let his star go.

“I would have to spend a decade of my life with Orion’s empty shoulder,” Montargès tells Inverse. “I'm not ready to go through that.”

Thankfully, he didn’t have to.

Here’s a side-by-side view of the red supergiant star. This comparison image shows the star Betelgeuse before and after its unprecedented dimming. The observations, taken with the SPHERE instrument on ESO's Very Large Telescope in January and December 2019 show how much the star has faded and how its apparent shape has changed. ESO/M. Montargès et al.

Read the full story.

More on the mysteries of space:

From left to right: U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, former U.S. Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett, U.S. Space Force Chief of Space Operations Gen. “Jay” Raymond, and U.S. Space Force Senior Enlisted Advisor CMSgt Roger Towberman present the U.S. Space Force flag on May 15, 2020, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC. MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

Remember Space Force? By using a reusable booster, the newest branch of the military signals openness to this cornerstone of Elon Musk's rocketry company, writes Dave Gershgorn:

SpaceX will launch a critical Space Force satellite on a previously used rocket later this week for the first time, which could cement SpaceX’s reusable rockets as safe for the Space Force’s operations.

SpaceX has already launched three Space Force satellites into orbit on fresh rockets. The first launch with a reused rocket is planned for Thursday, June 17, with the launch of the GPS III SV05 satellite.

This satellite is the final piece of hardware the Space Force needs in orbit to complete its network of M-Code satellites, which are purported to be more resistant to jamming and cyberattacks.

Read the full story.

Related stories on the privatization of space:

Six groundbreaking missions From Mariner 4 to Curiosity, these historical missions have shaped our understanding of the Red Planet. Jenn Walter has put together a card story on these pioneering trips. Take a trip down memory lane with this visually captivating gallery. See the full list here.

More on the rovers moving around on other planets:

Catherine McQueen/Moment/Getty Images

Five dangerous fentanyl mythsIn a new study, researchers found nearly all law enforcement participants believed they could die from touching a small amount of fentanyl, reports Katie MacBride:

Stories of police officers being hospitalized or even overdosing on fentanyl, simply by touching the powerful opioid, are regularly reported. These events are echoed in the training materials given to officers. In 2016, for example, the Drug Enforcement Agency released a video for law enforcement warning that simply touching fentanyl could be fatal, adding, “exposure to an amount equivalent to a few grains of sand can kill you.”

There’s just one problem: It’s not true.

Read the full story here.

More health reporting:

Musician Kendrick Lamar marks a birthday today. Here’s 2012-era Lamar. C Flanigan/FilmMagic/Getty
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  • Before we go, happy birthday (🎂) to Kendrick Lamar (34), Barry Manilow (78), Venus Williams (41), Greg Kinnear (58), Newt Gingrich (78) (Source: AP.)
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