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Moon and Antares

June 11, 2014

It’s big. It’s bright. And it’s doomed.

Antares is one of the most impressive stars in the galaxy — a behemoth that’s at least 15 times as massive as the Sun, hundreds of times wider, and tens of thousands of times brighter. But that flashiness comes at a price — its lifetime is measured in millions of years versus billions of years for stars like the Sun.

When that lifetime is up, the star’s core will collapse, while its outer layers will blast into space as a supernova. The blast will push a mixture of chemical elements out into the galaxy — elements created in the star’s core during its short lifetime, or in the surrounding layers of gas during the explosion.

The collapsed core will most likely form a neutron star — a ball a few times as massive as the Sun but only a few miles in diameter. Most young neutron stars spin rapidly, beaming out pulses of energy, so they’re also known as pulsars. And they generate magnetic fields that can be millions of times stronger than Earth’s, giving them yet another designation: magnetars.

Astronomers don’t know all the signs that herald an impending supernova, so they can’t be sure just when Antares will explode. All they know for sure is that it’s likely to happen within the next million years or so — and it could happen as early as tonight.

Look for bright orange Antares rising to the lower right of the Moon early this evening, and moving even closer to the Moon during the night.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2014

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