Even the most amateur astronomers know the name “Betelgeuse,” and if you don't It sits in the constellation Orion and is usually easy to spot, being one of the brightest stars in the sky.
But a few months ago, something unusual began happening to Betelgeuse. And now astronomers think the star may soon explode.
Up until October, Betelgeuse was one of the top 10 brightest stars in the sky. But it began dimming and now it’s not even in the top 20. The “fainting” of Betelgeuse, as many astronomy sites are referring to it as, is causing waves in the astronomy community. Some believe it could be a sign that the star is about to explode and disappear from the nighttime sky forever.
I just took this shot of Orion and Taurus. Betelgeuse (left bright star) is noticeably dimmer than usual. It's at best as bright as Aldebaran (near the top) and dimmer than Rigel (right). No, this doesn't mean it's about to blow. It's a variable star and… https://t.co/dzDIdXk4v5 pic.twitter.com/oKWZJmgDmi— Phil Plait (@BadAstronomer) December 21, 2019
But this is a much-contested point. Betelgeuse is known as a “variable star,” meaning its brightness has varied in its life — something astronomers have been tracking.
"Maybe 300 years ago, Betelgeuse was dimmer than what we're observing now, but we don't have data," Stella Kafka, chief executive officer of the American Association of Variable Star Observers told CBC News.
So Betelgeuse is now much dimmer than it has been in the recorded past. And some believe it could go supernova.
According to National Geographic, stars like Betelguese are known to “live fast and die violently.” If Betelgeuse explodes, it will likely appear in the sky as bright as a full moon — only it will be visible during the day, too. It is so far away that it is unlikely to affect life on planet Earth. But it will make a cool astronomical show.
But don’t stay up at night waiting for it. If Betelgeuse is “about” to explode, it likely won’t be for another 100,000 years.
Some astronomers believe it isn’t actually fainting happening at all. The dimming is simply caused by the synchronicity of two separate light cycles that Betelgeuse experiences. If this is true, the star will continue to fade over the next few weeks before returning to its normal brightness.
There’s another theory that Betelgeuse has already exploded and we have yet to see it because it’s anywhere from 430 to 650 light-years away.
If we do see the blast happen sometime soon, that meant that it actually occurred back when European civilization on earth was experiencing the middle ages.