Is Betelgeuse the Outcome of a Past Merger?

E. Chatzopoulos, Louisiana State University
Juhan Frank, Louisiana State University
Dominic C. Marcello, Louisiana State University
Geoffrey C. Clayton, Louisiana State University


We explore the possibility that the star α Orionis (Betelgeuse) is the outcome of a merger that occurred in a low-mass-ratio ( 0.07-0.25) binary system some time in the past hundreds of thousands of years. To that goal, we present a simple analytical model to approximate the perturbed internal structure of a post-merger object following the coalescence of a secondary in the mass range 1-4 M o˙ into the envelope of a 15-17 M o˙ primary. We then compute the long-term evolution of post-merger objects for a grid of initial conditions and make predictions about their surface properties for evolutionary stages that are consistent with the observed location of Betelgeuse in the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram. We find that if a merger occurred after the end of the primary's main-sequence phase, while it was expanding toward becoming a red supergiant star and typically with radius ∼200-300 R o˙, then its envelope is spun up to values that remain in a range consistent with Betelgeuse observations for thousands of years of evolution. We argue that the best scenario that can explain both the fast rotation of Betelgeuse and its observed large space velocity is one where a binary was dynamically ejected by its parent cluster a few million years ago and then subsequently merged. An alternative scenario in which the progenitor of Betelgeuse was spun up by accretion in a binary and released by the supernova explosion of the companion requires a finely tuned set of conditions but cannot be ruled out.