Home Space What's Going On With Betelgeuse?

What’s Going On With Betelgeuse?

Author

Date

Category

Ryan F. Mandelbaum

Social media and news headlines are ablaze with talk of the red giant star Betelgeuse since astronomers noted that it’s growing fainter than ever before. Yes, the red giant star is growing closer to the end of its life, and that end will likely be explosive.

But is Betelgeuse about to go supernova? The answer is complicated, but in short, probably not. The dimming could well be the result of the star’s typically variable behaviour.

Betelgeuse forms the top-left corner of the constellation Orion, and is among the brightest and recognisable stars in the sky. It also massive, weighing perhaps 20 times mass of the Sun. It’s radius is also around 900 times that of the Sun’s as well. If it were in our own solar system, it would engulf the closest four planets.

It’s relatively young at less than 10 million years old, but its colour demonstrates it’s far along in its life. Given its large mass, astronomers expect that the star will die in a fiery supernova. It’s exciting to imagine what a nearby supernova would look like. Betelgeuse might collapse, shining brighter than our Moon in the sky for weeks or more. But don’t expect such an event soon.

Astronomers have been talking about the star growing dimmer, or “fainting” in sciencespeak. Betelgeuse already varies in brightness, from a magnitude of 0.0 (around the brightness of the fourth brightest star in the sky, Arcturus) to a magnitude of 1.3, slightly brighter than the planet Mars. But the fainting that began in October was quick, and the star is no longer in the top 10 brightest stars in the sky. In fact, the star is now dimmer than ever observed before.

Tying the fainting to an impending supernova is an exciting idea, but there are plenty of other options to consider first. EarthSky.org reports that chemical processes on the star’s surface might change its brightness—so too might gas or dust obscuring it. Perhaps multiple cycles of dimming have all aligned. Material moving around the star’s surface could also be behind the dimming according to National Geographic.

Of course, it would be amazing if Betelgeuse went supernova (and no, it would not harm us here on the Earth). But if we’re going to be appropriately sceptical, there are other more mundane possibilities that astronomers must rule out before settling on the most spectacular one—and we already know that dimming and brightening is simply part of Betelgeuse’s regular behaviour. Astronomers do expect the star to go full supernova in perhaps the next 100,000 years (though at 640 light-years away, we won’t see the explosion until centuries after it happens). But that doesn’t mean the current dim spell means a supernova is imminent.

I’d like to see a supernova as much as you. But even if we still have eons to go for Betelgeuse to go, there are plenty of other stars in the sky. University of Toronto Astrophysicist Yvette Cendes noted on Reddit that Eta Carinae may be our best bet for the next one.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Looking last night, it has dimmed quite a lot. It is normally close to Rigel in brightness but is currently about the same magnitude as Bellatrix.

    2

    0

  2. It must be a lefty – it’s “threatening to explode.”

    “I’M SO TRIGGERED! I’M SO TRIGGERED! I’LL DO IT! YES I WILL!”

    3

    0

Comments are closed.

Recent posts

Joe Hiden, Sleepy Joe, Crazy Joe

50+ Questions No Reporter Dares Ask Joe Biden And His Campaign When Biden actually agrees to an interview or offers to take questions, most reporters...

One rule for thee, another one for me

No surprises there from the self serving hypocrite. What more proof is needed that this rabble of liars simply cannot be trusted to even...

Yasser Crackafat reports

Alexander the Great  PROTEST AOTEA CENTRE 12:00 PM TODAY! WE ARE WINNING!

Recent comments

waikatogirl on Have Your Say
Mike Hunty on Have Your Say
nasska on Have Your Say
Sooty on Have Your Say
waikatogirl on Have Your Say
Sooty on Have Your Say
Braybots nemesis on Have Your Say
Simpleton1 on Have Your Say

The way we all feel about this useless government

Hamilton
scattered clouds
7.1 ° C
8.3 °
5.6 °
92 %
0.9kmh
25 %
Sun
13 °
Mon
16 °
Tue
16 °
Wed
16 °
Thu
15 °
NZD - New Zealand Dollar
USD
1.4790
EUR
1.7510
AUD
1.0782
CAD
1.1201
GBP
1.9103
JPY
0.0141
CNY
0.2185
INR
0.0201