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November 26, 2016

Harry Potter fans may boo when they hear its name, but Bellatrix, one of the stars of Orion, is nothing to sneer at. It’s one of the hottest, brightest stars in the neighborhood. It forms one of the shoulders of Orion, the hunter. It climbs into good view by 8 or 9 o’clock, to the upper right of the hunter’s other shoulder, bright orange Betelgeuse.

J.K. Rowling filled the Harry Potter universe with characters named for stars and constellations. The best known are Sirius Black, Harry Potter’s godfather, and Black’s cousin, Bellatrix Lestrange, a nasty follower of Lord Voldemort.

The star Bellatrix isn’t nasty at all. In fact, it’s quite impressive. It’s much hotter than the Sun, and thousands of times brighter, so it’s easy to see even though it’s about 250 light-years away.

The key to the star’s power is its mass — about nine times the mass of the Sun. Heavier stars burn through the nuclear fuel in their cores in a hurry, so they produce far more energy than stars like the Sun.

But they also live much shorter lives. In fact, even though it’s only about a half a percent the age of the Sun, Bellatrix is nearing the end of its life. It’s not massive enough to explode as a supernova, so its fate most likely is similar to that of the Sun. In a few million years, it’ll cast its outer layers into space, leaving only its hot, dead core. This tiny ember will be far too faint to see from Earth, so one of Harry Potter’s greatest foes will fade from view.


Script by Damond Benningfield

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