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Betelgeuse Explodes

December 30, 2016

No constellation is more brilliant than Orion the hunter, which is prominent in the evening skies of winter. Look for its three-star belt extending upward from the eastern horizon as night falls.

Part of Orion’s beauty comes from the bright star Betelgeuse, which is to the left of the belt in early evening. It’s one of the biggest stars in our part of the galaxy.

Some recent research indicates that Betelgeuse will blow itself to bits a lot sooner than most astronomers had thought.

You can tell that Betelgeuse is in trouble just by looking at it. Unlike Orion’s other bright stars, which are blue, Betelgeuse is orange. All of these stars were born big, bright, and blue. As a massive star ages, though, it expands, which causes its outer layers to get cooler and redder. So Betelgeuse's orange color, which is easily visible to the unaided eye, signals impending doom.

Betelgeuse will someday explode as a supernova. If it does so from its present distance of about 640 light-years, the explosion will rival the brightness of the Moon.

Astronomers have long thought the blast would occur within a million years. But new research suggests it’ll take place even sooner — within just the next hundred thousand years.

That still means that Betelgeuse is unlikely to explode during our lifetimes. But if the new work is correct, the star is closer to death than anyone had thought — and may treat our distant descendants to a real spectacle.


Script by Ken Croswell, Copyright 2016


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