Is Betelgeuse in Orion about to explode in a SuperNova?

Somethings going on in the sky. In Orion, the red supergiant star known as Betelgeuse is looking faint, dropping rapidly in brightness since October and is now at ~1.3 to 1.5 magnitude. Normally it burns brightly, as seen in the upper left in the photo below, but it has now dipped so low in magnitude it is not even in the top 20 brightest stars in the night sky.

Betelgeuse is a distinctly reddish, semiregular variable star whose apparent magnitude varies between +0.0 and +1.3, the widest range of any first-magnitude star. At near-infrared wavelengths, Betelgeuse is the brightest star in the night sky. In visible wavelengths, it is (was) the 9th brightest star in the night sky and 2nd-brightest in the constellation of Orion.

According to Wikipedia:

Due to its distinctive orange-red color, Betelgeuse is easy to spot with the naked eye in the night sky. It is one of three stars that make up the Winter Triangle asterism, and it marks the center of the Winter Hexagon. At the beginning of January of each year, it can be seen rising in the east just after sunset. Between mid-September to mid-March (best in mid-December), it is visible to virtually every inhabited region of the globe, except in Antarctica at latitudes south of 82°. In May (moderate northern latitudes) or June (southern latitudes), the red supergiant can be seen briefly on the western horizon after sunset, reappearing again a few months later on the eastern horizon before sunrise. In the intermediate period (June–July) it is invisible to the naked eye (visible only with a telescope in daylight), unless around midday (when the Sun is below horizon) on Antarctic regions between 70° and 80° south latitude.

Betelgeuse is a variable star whose visual magnitude ranges between 0.0 and +1.3. There are periods when it will surpass Rigel to become the sixth brightest star, and occasionally it will be even brighter than Capella. At its faintest Betelgeuse can fall behind Deneb and Beta Crucis, themselves both slightly variable, to be the 20th-brightest star.

It is also unimaginably huge. If placed where our sun is today, it would swallow Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars and even Jupiter.

This image, made with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), shows the red supergiant Betelgeuse — one of the largest stars known. In the millimeter continuum the star is around 1400 times larger than our Sun. The overlaid annotation shows how large the star is compared to the Solar System. Betelgeuse would engulf all four terrestrial planets — Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars — and even the gas giant Jupiter. Only Saturn would be beyond its surface. Link Betelgeuse captured by ALMA

Currently, some astronomers have been speculating that the rapid dimming is a precursor to a supernova event. Some are saying no, that it’s just business as usual for a variable star. Looking at the data, it certainly is highly variable.

This much is clear: due to what it is, a red supergiant, Betelgeuse will eventually explode as a supernova. It is roughly 550-650 light-years away (parallax measurement is uncertain due to its size) and when it goes supernova, it will be spectacular.

The question is, is what we are seeing now just some behavior of a variable star, or the indications it is shrinking and about to explode?

According to the Astronomer’s Telegram, it may simply be periodic coincidence:

This appears to be the faintest the star has been measured since photoelectric observations have been carried out of the star. However, photoelectric photometry carried out during late-1926 / early-1927 by Joel Stebbins (1931: Pub. Washburn Obs., 15, 177) indicates that Betelgeuse declined to V’ ~+1.25 mag.

At its average maximum brightness light (V ~ 0.3 – 0.4 mag), Betelgeuse is the 6 – 7th brightest star. But by 2019 mid-December the star has slipped to the ~21st brightest star. The red supergiant is now closer in brightness to Bellatrix (V =+1.64 mag) than to Rigel (V =+0.13 mag). Wing three-band Near-IR and TiO photometry carried out at Wasatonic Observatory shows that Betelgeuse is also cooler with an inferred spectral-type near ~M3.5 Iab (Teff ~ 3,545 K from TiO-photometry).

This is about 150 K cooler than measured near maximum light. Analysis of the last 25-yrs of V-band and Wing TiO and Near-IR photometry shows a dominant ~425+/-10 day period as well as a long-term ~5.9+/-0.5 year period. The current faintness of Betelgeuse appears to arise from the coincidence of the star being near the minimum light of the ~5.9-yr light-cycle as well as near, the deeper than usual, minimum of the ~425-d period.

http://www.astronomerstelegram.org/?read=13365

Either way, it is fascinating.

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98 thoughts on “Is Betelgeuse in Orion about to explode in a SuperNova?

  1. I just posted something on Facebook about this last night. I had been out to check on Betelgeuse and had estimated its brightness as slightly brighter than the two brightest stars in Orion’s belt – they are 1.7 – and I estimated the current magnitude of Betelgeuse at around 1.5. The star is something ike 400 to 700 light years away so maybe it has gone bang already!

      • Where “it puts you” most likely is looking at an image produced from a reflector telescope that is not a Smidt- Cassegrain.

        • When one looks through a reflector telescope the image they see is upside down compared to what they would see with their naked eye; That is unless one inserts a “diagonal” in before the eyepiece. I don’t use a diagonal because every lens one adds cuts down on the amount of light reaching ones eye. Yes, it appears upside down in the SH to the naked eye.

  2. As much as I would like to see it blow, it most likely is just a coincidence of the two cycles reaching minimum at nearly the same time. If it were imploding, I would expect a rapid drop in magnitude followed by a rapid rise to nearly as bright as a full moon. We’ve never seen a supernova up close, especially from a star as well studied as Betelgeuse. I will definitely keep watching.

  3. Maybe it blew up 560 years ago and we get to see it any minute now. Is there any real time monitoring of stars? Like, I feel a disturbance in the force? I’m going to look for it tonight, with the assistance of an adult beverage.

    • “This much is clear: due to what it is, a red supergiant, Betelgeuse will eventually explode as a supernova. It is roughly 550-650 light-years away”
      As Ron said perhaps it already blew up some time in the last 650 years.
      So has blown up or will eventually blow up is precise.

    • Only in Sub-Space Communications. Call up Lt. Uhura.

      But seriously, at this distance, would there be any affect on satellites or Earth electronics due to any radiation? X-rays, neutrinos, tachyons, other particles?

    • Right,

      Ron Long – Maybe it blew up 560 years ago and we get to see it any minute now. Is there any real time monitoring of stars? Like, I feel a disturbance in the force? I’m going to look for it tonight, with the assistance of an adult beverage.

      ____________________________________

      No, there’s no such thing as “any real time monitoring of stars”.

      Just to be sure, make your “assistance of an adult beverage” last for some 560 years from now.

  4. Would a “nearby” supernova hit Earth’s atmosphere with all sorts of particles and cause some noticeable global effect on the weather?

    • Yes. [According to some people.] You haven’t been paying attention!

      From 2004: https://www.amazon.com/Chilling-Stars-New-Theory-Climate/dp/1840468661/ref=sr_1_1

      Scientists agree that the earth has become hotter over the last century. But on the causes, despite what looks to the public mind like a consensus, there are dissenting voices. Based on Henrik Svensmark’s research at the Danish National Space Center, this book outlines a brilliant and daring new theory that has already provoked fresh thinking on global warming. As prize-winning science writer Nigel Calder and Svensmark himself explain, an interplay of the sun and cosmic rays – sub-atomic particles from exploded stars – seem to have more effect on the climate than man-made carbon dioxide.

      • That would only happen if the one of the star’s poles was pointed directly at us.
        I don’t believe that is the case for Betelgeuse.

        • Inferred from a “hot spot,” the poles are inclined (relative to our ecliptic plane) at 20 degrees. Not that a supernova would act like a laser – but at 400+ LY there would be quite a bit of reduction in intensity when it reached us.

          Much more of a “hazard” is Sirius (less than 9 LY away). There was a novel quite a while ago, during the last “catastrophe of the month” cycle, where a supernovaed Sirius caused a massive EMP event. (Does anyone remember the author? If I still have the book, it’s somewhere back in my “dark” stacks, where I’m not going to go digging right now.) Betelgeuse… well, might be a VERY bad time to take an international or cross-country airplane trip. Possibly satellite disruptions, depending on how well they are hardened.

    • It is interesting that I took a look at Svensmark’s new paper posted here by Anthony earlier today, but now it’s disappeared. One of the major points was the effect of supernovas on climate. Purportedly, the supernovas, and spiral arms of the galaxies have major effect on climate, the first because of GCRs, and from other sources, space dust.
      Since John Daly’s days, we “deniers” have tried to understand, to theorize, and accept that we are at the mercy of more than CO2.

      • Did you perhaps get to the post by one of the three links at the bottom of another article? The last paper by Svensmark that I remember seeing here was a year or two ago.

        Those links change – I don’t know whether they are curated, or are automatically put up by some kind of tag / keyword matching plug-in. I’ve learned to grab a copy of any interesting post I hit through those links, as I might not find it again.

    • A nearby supernova would hit the Earth with various particles, however these particles travel at less than the speed of light, so they would not arrive until years after the light from the explosion does.
      If the explosion is 500 light years away, a particle moving at 99% the speed of light would arrive 5 years later.
      A particle moving at 90% the speed of light would arrive 50 years later.

    • Exactly. It is obviously more correct to say “Betelgeuse became a supernova” since the event happened more than a few ‘light’ years ago. Gives a whole new meaning to ‘now you see it, now you don’t’!

      • No, it’s more correct to say “we have no idea what it’s doing right now, or may have done in the intervening time.”

    • Star watching is a very asynchronous exercise. With your eye you see stars as they were years to thousands of years ago. With a small telescope it is millions (stars that far are rather faint). With a large one it is billions.

  5. That’s very interesting.
    Orion is my favourite constellation. I used to stand out in the freezing cold evening in England to look at it. It was upsetting to see him upside down in Australia!

    • I had issues looking at the sky first time I went to Australia, fixed it by facing south then leaning way back and looking from that perspective
      Worked great, until too many beverages then fell over

      • So I wasn’t the only one trying to be a contortionist in order to see Orion properly! Instead of your technique, though, I bent over forwards and then looked up. Not a good idea any more as the years have taken their toll!

    • If the star now appears in your attic, then my GCM predicts that 2020 will be the hottest year ever!

      • Do you think I made a rash decision?

        Nah, it’s gonna be the hottest year evah, no matter what I do. There’s this weird little guy making me sing the banana boat song though. Pretty annoying.

    • Some etymology here:
      The Bedelgeuzen (Dutch) are known in history as a ragged band of beggars, actually a pleonasm with the “gueux” (French).
      They featured prominently as a surprise force during the Dutch 80-year independence war against Spain in the 16th century, when in 1572 waterborne “geuzen” overwhelmed the Spanish garrison of the Zeeland port of DenBriel.
      While well known to any Dutch school boy, they now survive as “watergeuzen,” as a vocal group.

      • Ooh! Pleonasm! One doesn’t see that word every day.

        The La Brea Tar Pits, AKA the the tar tar pits.

      • Prior to the movie, I always used the French pronunciation Bételgeuse

        (In ‘murcan that would be approximately bay tel gerz)

        But it is apparently from bayt al jawza, so my hard g seems mistaken.

        How does a real pedant say it, Jeff? 🙂

  6. Jesus effing Christ! If Betelgeuse went, supernova (past tense) …. there is no about.

    This new information to us, not the universe.

    Please keep time and distance in chronological perspective.

    We have more then enough people on this plant intellectually challenged…

    • Easy not to use the proper tense when an actual event occurs 100s, 1,000,s or millions or billion of years before our observation of it. When I took my 10″ Mead telescope and gave a little talk to my granddaughters class at school I started out my presentation with “This is a telescope. It allows us to look back in time” Then went on to explain that concept.

  7. Orion one of the most interesting targets in the night sky for the backyard astronomer. Seems that even in the last couple of decades they have changed their mind about where some of Orions features are located in the Milky Way galaxy relative to our own sun.

    • It’s CO2, obviously. Australia trying to use “left over” Kyoto credits caused the star to explode with the angst of it all.

  8. Dang! Cloudy weather’s in the forecast for the next 2 days. I hope the supernova holds off until we get some clear nights! 😉

    • The if the supernova happened it happened a long time ago. It did not hold off.

      See this is the kind of confusion that ensues when you talk about cosmological events in present tense.

      • From a relativistic perspective, if you ain’t seen it, it ain’t happened.
        The confusion is yours for clinging to an absolute frame of temporal reference.

        • By that logic the universe would be much younger. Red shift would not exist. Cosmic Background radiation would exist, etc. In your universe precession does not happen. I guess my brain can hold on to and process more temporal realities simultaneously.

          Ever heard of the velocity-position equation/relationship? Movement of energy and mass takes time, regardless of its speed. Just because your time slowed does not mean the universe waited for you to slow down. It marched onward.

          Also by your logic, accelerating H- and bombarding 18O using the nuclear reaction of a proton-neutron knockout and to produce 18F never happened due the decay of 18F back to 18O. Speaking in terms of the internal frame of reference of the 18O atom.
          Or your car does no net Work for the day due to returning to it the same position in which it started. Even though it and you consumed resources.

          Relativistic frames of reference are there make the universe easier to understand to our brain’s barely functioning ability to deal with the four dimensions of the physical universe in which we live and exist. Not even going to mention all the other possible dimensional geometry of the universe.

          Or the universe is hologram and we all stuck the cave watching the universe on the back wall. There’s the real universe and there’s the philosophical interpretation of said universe.

  9. Yer know, Betelgeuse is awfully close to Gretelgeuse or Greta Goose.

    So maybe this is Gaia’s attempt to tell us “How Dare You!” because we are eevil polluters and fossil fuel consumers.

    I mean the nerve! Raising CO2 concentration from 0.03% to 0.04% of the atmosphere!

  10. If the star were collapsing I would expect to see the light shift towards blue as it rapidly heats up – so there should be some indication in the entire light spectrum shifting.

    Another possibility includes a dust cloud coming in between Earth and Betelgeuse (too far from the star to heat much, but enough to block the light) – that too would be interesting as it would prove there is more dark undetectable dust out there then allowed for. One could test for this by studying the spectrum change, and if certain bands are being absorbed then you know there is stuff out there.

    So if it DOES explode, can we blame it on global warming?

  11. Betelgeuse is huffing and puffing, expanding and contracting in what would appear to be its final death throe. Perhaps it is like the contractions a women in a childbirth experience, to borrow a metaphor, except that instead of birth, this is its final death throes. Although that too may lead to a nursery of other future stars. The problem is, is that we have so little analysis of other stars going supernova, that we really don’t know what the frequency of brightness and dimming means, or whether there is any logic to that anyway. Every supernova probably has its own specific set of variables to deal with based upon its size and composition, so it will probably take a very long time to gather evidence, at least from observations of Betelgeuse. It is also probably the most observed star in our galactic neighbourhood, so we will no doubt gain lot of valuable information over the coming years.

    It is my favourite section of the sky, whether from my normal northerly latitudes where I grew up or to more equatorial views. I have spent a lot of time the last 25-30 years sitting on my balcony, at the lake or a southern equatorial beach, watching and gazing around the Orion neighbourhood and hoping that I get to witness this event in ‘real’ time. Well, real time for us, since perhaps it has already gone supernova. There is so much that we don’t know yet but I remember the preacher on Sunday sermons when I was a kid always saying there would be signs in the heavens when the end days were near. Perhaps it does affect the good Earth, momentarily in some form of interstellar shock wave.

    • “Betelgeuse is huffing and puffing, expanding and contracting in what would appear to be its final death throe. ”

      Nope. It’s not doing anything that it hasn’t done since we’ve been observing it.

      • I have read other scientific papers on this process with Betelgeuse and other supernova and that the red giant star is physically expanding and contracting which is affecting the dimming and brightening causing the luminosity of the star to change. Perhaps this is part of the scientific enquiry trying to establish what is actually going, of which we still do not understand the entire process. It seems there are some changes happening since we have been observing it, which is the point of the post in that the star is dimming more than usual. “The current faintness of Betelgeuse appears to arise from the coincidence of the star being near the minimum light of the ~5.9-yr light-cycle as well as near, the deeper than usual, minimum of the ~425-d period.”

        Even our our own star will eventually expand into a red giant, but of course won’t even go nova and nor will it contract until it just collapses into a white dwarf. My understanding of the super giant red stars that will supernova is that the expansion is in a death spiral with the immense gravity of the star and it is expanding and contracting and the final battle of expansion and contraction due to gravity and ends up in a colossal explosion, that creates a nebulae and therefore will give birth to a new crop of stars. We will know more in the future for sure how all this works.

        • “Even our our own star will eventually expand into a red giant, but of course won’t even go nova and nor will it contract until it just collapses into a white dwarf.”

          We think that’s what will happen, we don’t know.

  12. Folks here if interested should read up on Cepheid variables to understand how these stars change luminosity over short intervals (days).

    Cephid Variable (accepted) mechanism:

    “The accepted explanation for the pulsation of Cepheids is called the Eddington valve, or κ-mechanism, where the Greek letter κ (kappa) denotes gas opacity. Helium is the gas thought to be most active in the process. Doubly ionized helium (helium whose atoms are missing both electrons) is more opaque than singly ionized helium. The more helium is heated, the more ionized it becomes. At the dimmest part of a Cepheid’s cycle, the ionized gas in the outer layers of the star is opaque, and so is heated by the star’s radiation, and due to the increased temperature, begins to expand. As it expands, it cools, and so becomes less ionized and therefore more transparent, allowing the radiation to escape. Then the expansion stops, and reverses due to the star’s gravitational attraction. The process then repeats.

    The mechanics of the pulsation as a heat-engine was proposed in 1917 by Arthur Stanley Eddington[52] (who wrote at length on the dynamics of Cepheids), but it was not until 1953 that S. A. Zhevakin identified ionized helium as a likely valve for the engine.”

    source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cepheid_variable

    All stars are complex, fusion-driven engines. Simple explanations for most processes (if not all) will certainly fail. We’ve been studying our Sun for centuries and there is still little broadly accepting mechanisms for all its cycles and variations… but no shortage of hypotheses and conjectures.

    Betelgeuse, to be absolutely clear, is NOT a Cepheid variable … so the Helium III (doubly ionized helium) Eddington valve mechanism of Ceheids is not in play here with Betelgeuse. Betelgeuse variability maybe more related to a magnetic cycle like our Sun’s 11 year cycle.

    Just understand there are different reasons for a star having a variable apparent magnitude. And they do not necessarily in any way suggest they are about to explode in a supernova. But someday, probably within the next 200,000 years, Betelgeuse will likely explode in a Type II-P supernova and then become a Neutron star. That Supernova will be quite spectacular from Earth, being visible during the daytime for months. But it likely will have no ill effects for Mother Earth as it is expected NOT to produce any significant gamma ray burst.

  13. I’m not convinced that we really know ANYTHING about the life cycles of stars, or that our classifications of the ones we can see really mean anything. We haven’t witnessed the life cycle of ANY star, yet we presume to know what will happen.

    • The most famous time a Super Nova occurred that was easily observable or in fact so bright it could not be missed without a telescope from earth was in July 1054. I have read a translation of a Chinese account that indicated for a short while it seemed to “turn night into day”. Apparently it was bright enough to be visible during the daylight hours for 23 days and at night it’s luminosity exceeded that of a full moon for a time. The Chinese observed it for 642 days before it completely faded out and it is believed to be the star which left the Crab Nebula. The Crab Nebula is a about 6,500 light years from earth and has a pulsar at it’s core.
      If in fact Betelgeuse goes supernova I doubt that even the least observant will miss it.

      • Yes I’m familiar with that one. But, again. We don’t know anything about it except that some event occurred. Maybe it was a supernova, maybe it wasn’t.

  14. Douglas Adams dreamt up an academic – the name escapes me – who specialised in arcane tenses to describe events that fall outside our standard time frame; one of his many brilliant creations.

  15. “saklamoa astragad otrimantium brambriar”–From the Betelgeuse Death Hymn

    Translation: “After this, things can only get better”

    Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy

  16. “About to supernova” – if so what is the time frame? Sometime between now and the next millennium?

    And if it is true I can’t forget to say Nooooo! Don’t supernova! Orion won’t be whole without you!

  17. Ooooooooh, can’t wait, he is in our south facing window every night.
    Would love to see it “live” as it happens.

  18. I’m not all that plussed about it at this point, but if it drops to maybe 1.8-2.0, I’ll definitely be expecting a supernova pretty soon, that would indicate its starting to rapidly contract. Thats the other problem with it being so huge: the core could already have sufficient mass within its Schwartzild Radius to become a black hole, but all the glowey mass we see is still far outside any quick “suckey in” part of the gravity well, given its huge radius. Either way, we’ve got a nearly front row seat and will learn a lot from this.

  19. We found out about the possible imminent explosion of Betelgeuse some years ago. It could happen now, it could happen 1,000 years from now. Or has happened and we won’t see it until the light reaches us – as it may be, every so often when we go outside and look up at it, I like to coax it. “Exploooooode!” Of stellar events I would like to enjoy in my lifetime, a supernova is certainly high on my list.

    • McCool

      So if I read the article correctly, increased manmade CO2 on Earth is causing Betelgeuse to go supernova?

      ____________________________________

      Earliest some

      “roughly [ 550-650 light-years away ] 550-650 years in the future (parallax measurement is uncertain due to its size)!”

  20. The universe seems to be a much more dynamic place then we thought:
    – 100 catalogued stars disappeared since 1950s. Simply cannot be seen anymore even with the improved tools that we have
    https://www.sott.net/article/425992-100-previously-catalogued-stars-just-vanished
    https://www.sott.net/image/s27/550066/full/villaroel_et_al.jpg

    – 6 galaxies (!) changed from ‘quiet’ to quasars (!) within month…
    https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-09/uom-usc091819.php
    “A team of astronomers observed six mild-mannered LINER galaxies suddenly and surprisingly transforming into ravenous quasars–home to the brightest of all active galactic nuclei. “

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