A new image from the Herschel Space Observatory -- a European Space Agency mission with NASA participation -- reveals the shedding, aging star is located near an odd, linear bar of some sort of cosmic material, a NASA release reported Wednesday.
Astronomers had thought the bar was part of matter ejected during a previous stage of the star's evolution, but the new image suggests it is a separate object.
It may be a linear filament linked to the galaxy's magnetic field, or the edge of a nearby interstellar cloud that is being illuminated by Betelgeuse, scientists said.
Betelgeuse, already swelled into a red supergiant and shedding a significant fraction of its outer layers, is likely on its way to a spectacular supernova explosion, astronomers said.
A thousand times the diameter of the sun and shining 100,000 times more brightly, Betelgeuse is visible to the naked eye as one "shoulder" of Orion, the famous hunter presiding over northern winter skies.