Weekend Sky Report / Betelgeuse
December 28, 2018
It’s big, it’s bright, and it could go supernova in our lifetime.
Betelgeuse, the right shoulder of Orion the Hunter, which is prominent in the eastern sky this evening, is a truly remarkable star. For one thing, it’s one of the largest stars we’ve ever discovered. If you were to replace the sun with Betelgeuse, it would engulf all four inner planets from Mercury to Mars, and, by some estimates, even Jupiter. It’s enormous.
Now, in the celestial world, typically the bigger the star, the shorter the lifespan. Our sun is about 4 and-a-half billion years old. Betelgeuse is only estimated to be 8-and-a-half million years old. And yes, it may go supernova in our lifetime… or it could take up to a million years… we simply don’t know.
What we DO know is that WHEN Betelgeuse goes supernova, it will easily be visible in the daytime, maybe even outshining the full moon.
One thing that sparked a lot of talk about Betelgeuse going supernova was an observation made in 2009 that showed its size had contracted by 15%, prompting rumors that the star was collapsing and may go soon. Amateur theories went wild, even doomsday predictions, but while the Betelgeuse supernova will be huge, even on the celestial scale, it’s still too far away to cause any ill effects on Earth. At almost 650 light years away, it’ll just be a REALLY bright star for a few short months. And then… one of the brightest stars in the night sky… will be gone forever. But it won’t be a time for mourning, because if we DO get to see it, we’ll be witnessing one of the most significant and spectacular celestial events in human history.
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