Back to: Weekend Sky Report
December 27, 2019
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.
Lately, astronomers have noticed a significant dimming of Betelgeuse. What was once considered to be the brightest star in Orion is now just another point of light in the sky. But this change isn’t unprecedented. Betelgeuse has long been known as a variable star, meaning its brightness is known to change. But dimming this significant could also mean that big changes are happening 650 light years away. It could be collapsing, eventually resulting in a supernova… or other forces may be at work. We simply can’t know for sure. But even though it will mean one of the brightest stars in the night sky will be gone forever, 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.