When that happens, it will be the astronomical event of the millennium. Betelgeuse, a red giant star in the constellation Orion the Hunter, will explode in a supernova.
There would be no danger to Earth from 650 light-years away, but the dying star would shine almost as bright as the Moon, and could be seen even during the day for several months. When it finally dims, it will become invisible to the naked eye. The hunter, known to humans for at least 30,000 years, would have lost a shoulder.
Now some scientists predict that it could happen very soon, perhaps within the next few decades.
in Recently completed studya team led by Hideyuki Sayo of Japan’s Tohoku University suggested that Betelgeuse might be older, and therefore later in life, than other scientists calculated.
If Saio’s numbers are correct, the star may have depleted all its hydrogen and helium — the elements that drive nuclear fusion in our sun — and may be burning its way through its store of carbon atoms.
“We conclude that Betelgeuse should be currently at a late stage (or near the end) of its primary carbon burn,” the paper notes. “After the carbon in the core is depleted, a core collapse leading to a supernova explosion is expected within a few dozen [of] years.”
To be clear, most scientists assume a slightly smaller size than Betelgeuse, which means it may have a way to go before the supernova event – maybe 100,000 years, although that’s still a blink of an eye in cosmological terms.
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But even there, no one is sure of the exact timing. Expectations are up to a galactic gaming table. Bookmakers prefer a time frame of tens of thousands of years, but there are far-reaching odds, for example, next Tuesday.
Part of the problem is that nearby supernovae that are easily seen with the naked eye are extremely rare and therefore not well-studied. The last time it was observed from Earth was in 1604, four years before the invention of the telescope. (In 1987, a supernova in one of the Milky Way’s companion galaxies was barely visible from the Southern Hemisphere, emerging as a faint new star.)
Whatever the timing of its eventual fate, the bright star Betelgeuse has given humans something to talk about for thousands of years. a Ivory small discFor more than 30,000 years, the image of the constellation Orion appears next to a group of 86 degrees, equal to the number of days that Betelgeuse can be seen in the sky. This is also the number of days fewer than a year for a human being to conceive, which means that the star may be seen as a harbinger of fertility.
More recently, historians have noted that Chinese astronomers in the second century BC referred to the star as having a yellow hue;while four centuries later, Ptolemy of Alexandria named it red, indicating a change in color during that time.
Then in 2019 came the “great blackout.” Scientists believe that Betelgeuse belched, releasing a large portion of its surface area, causing the resulting dust cloud to emerge from Earth for the next two years. One can only imagine what the previous generation of astrologers would have made of the event followed by a pandemic.
Since then Betelgeuse He bounced off his burp, which is now brighter than usual. (Interestingly, both its dimming and brightening have been seen in various scientific circles as evidence that its end is near.)
But beyond the certainty of their eventual demise is the news that scientists expect to detect neutrinos and possibly gravitational waves one day before the light from the explosion reaches us. Enough time to pull up lawn chairs and sit back to watch the stellar fireworks display.
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