Humanity has marveled at the vivid star
But see, with what a troubled glare Orion’s star is setting there!
Today the colossal, easy-to-find star — so large that it would reach to
“People love Betelgeuse,” Heidi Morris, a scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the president of Pajarito Astronomers, an astronomy club, told Mashable. “It’s been doing these brightness fluctuations for a very long time.”
Yet lately these fluctuations haven’t been normal. Typically, Betelgeuse varies in brightness over 400 day cycles. But since violently
Don’t get too excited. This almost certainly isn’t evidence of a bloated star on the literal brink of a supernova.
“People love Betelgeuse.”
Still, Betelgeuse is a red supergiant star that has lived hard and will die young. It’s just some 10 million years old — while the sun is 5 billion years old. It’s a colossal star in the final stages of its fast-paced evolution. When it inevitably runs out of fuel, the core will collapse under the weight of its immense mass, and create an explosion that can outshine galaxies. It will happen. But you, me, and everyone else would like to know when.
When will Betelgeuse explode?
The cold, hard truth is, it’s unknown when Betelgeuse, at some
“We don’t have a way of predicting when stars will explode,” Or Graur, an associate professor of astronomy at the University of Portsmouth who researches supernovae, told Mashable. “We have no idea when Betelgeuse will explode,” added Graur, who wrote the book
“It really is uncertain,” agreed Los Alamos’ Morris. “We haven’t had a lot of supernovae to study in human history.”
Credit: NASA / ESA / Elizabeth Wheatley (STScI)
There is some evidence that Betelgeuse might not explode for a long, long time. Historical records indicate Betelgeuse has become redder over the past two thousand years, explained Jason Ybarra, the director of the West Virginia University Planetarium and Observatory, who researches stars and the history of astronomy. That would mean Betelgeuse only evolved into a red supergiant relatively recently (in cosmic terms), so it might take quite a while for the star to completely exhaust its fuel.
“To answer the question the best I can, Betelgeuse is probably not going to supernova any time soon,” Ybarra told Mashable.
Once a star becomes a red giant, it has a lot of cooking to do. Under the immense pressure in its core, heat fuses helium into carbon. After thousands of years, it then fuses carbon and helium to create oxygen, and the forging process continues, ultimately creating metals like iron. Right now, Betelgeuse is probably at an earlier stage in this cooking process, explained Morris, as the analysis of chemicals in the star’s atmosphere suggests it’s fusing helium to carbon in its core. (We can’t see inside mighty Betelgeuse.)
We clearly still have a lot to learn. We might be surprised. Watching Betelgeuse, and other giant stars, will give us a better answer.
“I would hesitate to say it will do nothing in 10,000 years,” said Morris. “We should keep our eye on it and let it inspire us to move forward scientifically.”
Credit: ESO / L. Calçada
What will we see when Betelgeuse explodes?
When Betelgeuse eventually explodes, it will astonish the world, or whomever is watching.
You’d be able to see the star change with the naked eye. Betelgeuse will get progressively brighter at night. After a few days, it will peak in brightness. This will last for around 100 days.
“It will be the brightest star,” explained Graur. “You would even be able to see it by day.”
But Betelgeuse isn’t the only red supergiant in our galaxy. Others, like
“Statistically, we’re overdo,” Graur noted.
“Statistically, we’re overdo.”
Any explosive event likely won’t be sudden, like detonating a bomb. There could be signals, such as smaller eruptions before the grand finale.
Keep your eyes to the sky. “We don’t know where the next supernova will come from,” said Graur.