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Betelgeuse about to blow?


Betelgeuse is shrinking! Could it be about to go supernova? Reports from the American Astronomical Society meeting in Pasadena, California this week suggest that over the past 15 years the bright red star has shrunk by 15%. (Press release)


These long-term observations were made by nearly-94-year old Nobel laureate Charles Townes and his colleagues, at UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory.

The star is no dimmer than it has been over the time they’ve been looking at it, and the reasons for the shrinkage have so far eluded the team. “We do not know why the star is shrinking,” says team member Edward Wishnow. “Considering all that we know about galaxies and the distant universe, there are still lots of things we don’t know about stars, including what happens as red giants near the ends of their lives.”

So far, so confusing. Few reports offer much explanation. The Register says the shrinking, seen by some including Townes as possible first signs of the star collapsing into a supernova, will be of most concern to fans of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: the red star was home to Zaphod Beeblebrox. “Fans will be hoping that the recent shrinkage of Zaphod’s sun doesn’t mean that, in fact, his homeworld was destroyed hundreds of years before Earth’s abrupt demolition to allow construction of a hyperspace bypass,” says the Register’s Lewis Page.

Over at New Scientist, we can find more in way of clarification. Townes tells them: “Maybe there’s some instability in the star and it’s going to collapse or at least go way down in size or blow off some material, but who knows.” Other astronomers polled for their opinions offer pulsations as a cause of the diminishment, or perhaps that the wonky star was just being looked at from a funny angle. “Often if you look at the simulations, the star is not spherical. It looks like a bad potato,” Graham Harper from the University of Colorado in Boulder told New Scientist.

Image: NASA


  1. Report this comment

    Uncle Al said:

    If it physically shrinks but does not dim then it must become hotter to have the same total emittance. Take an optical spectrum to confirm blackbody peak temperature shift.

    20 solar mass (borderline between core collapse to a neutron star or a black hole) Betelgeuse goes Type II supernova on 21 December 2012 local time. Unlike string theory, this can be validated or falsified. Super-Kamionkande gets a 10 second neutrino pulse. LIGO Washington and Louisiana detect gravitational waves, sending Kip Thorne to Sweden. The Earth and satellites get fried by annihalation radiation and later relativistic positrons as Co-56 in the fireball decays. Too much fun!

  2. Report this comment

    GH Stranger said:

    has anyone considered that this star maybe coming to LIFE!!

  3. Report this comment

    Tia S. said:

    Don’t worry people if Betelgeuse does decide to go supernova, it’s over 500 lightyears away and will not affect earth.

  4. Report this comment

    Barking Spider said:

    Betelgeuse, Betelgeuse, Betelgeuse!

  5. Report this comment

    Greg said:

    Wow. Wasn’t expecting to see this. I was always under the impression that blues were the ones that went boom. I remember reading about this star when I was in school. I sat there at my desk for a good couple of minutes with my mouth open trying to grasp how large it was compared to our solar system and gave up. Should be an interesting light show if it pans out this way. Hope nothing was living nearby…what a way to go.

  6. Report this comment


    Folks, I hate to be the one to remind yew all, but…the Mayan calendar comes to an end at midnight, December 21st, 2012. As for me, I think I’ll have two more tea martonies. Chow!

  7. Report this comment

    pete said:

    I always thought the blue’s, those fast-burners, were the first to go, like someone else commented. Maybe we don’t know enough about the life-cycle of the big reds.

  8. Report this comment

    John said:

    All stars “evolve” into another stage called Red Giants. In the case of “Super Blue Giants” evolve into “Super Red Giants”, wich is Betelgeuse, at present. Check out an astronomy book and look for a color plate of the HR diagram.

    Betelgeuse could become a Black Hole maybe, after going Supernova; depending on the Mass of it.

    Generally a star that is 40-50 times the mass of our sun (one solar mass) would become a Black Hole, approx 4 miles across with a mass of 6 solar masses.

  9. Report this comment

    Tyrone Steele said:

    Whatever happens, mayan calendar, neutron star, or nothing, we will not see its final results for nearly 600 years.

  10. Report this comment

    Crow Magnumb said:

    I didn’t know Mayans lived in the Betelgeuse star system. Cool!

  11. Report this comment

    Gus Michel said:

    The Zaphod & Ford thing isn’t an issue. They were from “the vicinity of Belegeuse”.

  12. Report this comment

    guy said:

    We see the star as it was 600 years ago, if we see it go supernova then it happened 600 years ago. The contraction we observe today happened 600 years ago, not today. Seeing it explode today does not mean it won’t affect us for 600 years. Besides, at 600 light years the affect should be purely visual. Right???

  13. Report this comment

    NotAFool said:

    So, there are at least a couple of you that were taken by Uncle Al’s nonsense. The decrease was stated 15% in aprox. 15 years, according to the article. Let’s say the collaps were to increase in speed by a rate of… 5x(give or take) during this “end of life” event… that would still put super nova well within the 2020 decade folks. At least TRY AND THINK A LITTLE!!! And please STOP VOTING. Dolts

  14. Report this comment

    Uncle Al is a dumbass said:

    Oh yay another end-of-the-world-of-the-month club seeder. Using big words fails to hide your moonbattery.

  15. Report this comment

    Rik Guido said:

    Considering its distance from earth, hasn’t it already gone supernova and the light of the event is just reaching us now?

  16. Report this comment

    Chris White said:

    No information can travel faster than the speed of light. What we see and know of Betelgeuse now is all we can know about its progress. Because it is 600 light years away, to suggest (by extrapolation), that it has already gone nova simply has no validity. It is a non-statement. What we see NOW of Betelgeuse IS, FOR US, the state of Betelgeuse. We cannot see or know anything of B’s “future” beyond that. For all we can know, it may turn into a giant pumpkin. Blame it on Einstein and Relativity.

  17. Report this comment

    sabya said:

    wow this is exciting….a supernova in my lifetime!!

  18. Report this comment

    sol said:

    >>Whatever happens, mayan calendar, neutron star, or nothing, we will not see its final results for nearly 600 years.

    UNLESS, of course, it blew 596years 6months ago…

  19. Report this comment

    Mox said:

    I remember reading once that an ancient text, maybe Babylonian, described Betelgeuse as a yellow star.

  20. Report this comment

    Bill L said:

    The Mayan Calendar thing reminds me of a road trip with friends in college. Driving through the hills of West Virginia, where we had never before been, I as navigator announced that we would shortly be driving past the edge of our only map.

    As we approached the End Of The Map, we saw a bright, wide line extending across the pavement ahead, its color and design exactly matching the decorative patterning of the border of the map. As we crossed this line, our everyday reality began to recede, and …

    Actually, no. The road went on just as before. The Map Is Not The Territory. The Mayan Calendar does not control time. It merely represents a portion of it.

  21. Report this comment

    Kevin said:

    No information can travel faster than the speed of light.

    Well, in fact it can, scientists experimenting with bubble chambers discovered a phenomenon not yet explained to my awareness. During a target impact, particles appeared at the far end of the chamber and decayed at the same time as the particles began to emerge from the target plate. This was repeated several times, then experimentally, a portion of a score of music was transmitted using the faster than light particles, which were invisible until their speed decayed below that of our perception of the speed of light. Once these particles, (ID unknown to me) had re-entered our perception, they quickly decayed into other particles. This is from memory and a google dig will produce much more sound information.

  22. Report this comment

    earth carer said:

    DId you now that you are destroying the ozone layer by using motor.So don’t use motor for short distance

    My age : 8 yrs

  23. Report this comment

    TheFireNation said:

    At 650 light years, we’re safe. The star would have to be within 50 to 100 light years before it could pose a danger to Earth. Fascinating post further up about particles traveling faster than light.

  24. Report this comment

    Aja said:

    If Betelgeuse were to explode, by the time we saw the light we will also be hit by the emitted radiation at the same time. They arrive together. And by that time, its too late to do anything about it. According to some recent comments (Thank the Lord for Discovery Channel!!) from astrophysicists like Dr. Neil Tyson and others, the radiation from such an explosion would indeed affect Earth and every living thing affected by very high doses of radiation. I heard Dr. Tyson say on a recent TV special that even humans could actually get ‘sun-burned’ by the intense gamma (?) rays the star would emit in such a massive explosion so ‘close’ to Earth.

  25. Report this comment

    David said:

    9/11/09 BOOM supernova I saw something did anyone else see it?

  26. Report this comment

    FB said:

    I doubt we would be affected by the nova. Any dangerous particles would not be traveling at light speed, so there would be a significant time gap between the observation and any of the nasty stuff. Just think of the northern lights and how we see the CME then a week later it hits the VA belts.

    Spacecraft on the other hand might need better shielding from any particles that make it our way. People smarter than me will decide that.

  27. Report this comment

    bob said:

    It will go super nova 11 September 2011. Will start effecting earths weather and metor strikes.

  28. Report this comment

    Mel said:

    Maybe it has already gone and thats the culprit for our global warming, atmosphere depletion etc?

  29. Report this comment

    Francis Vessigault said:

    Betelgeuse is a very Red Supergiant star, a M1 star with a temperature of 3600 K,over 1000 million Km in size. Its mass is over 15 Solar masses. It is above the 10 solar masses’ limit to explode as a type II supsernova. BETELGEUSE WILL FOR SURE EXPLODE AS A TYPE TWO SUPERNOVA, leaving behind a neutron star, the size of Manhattan. Rigel, a supergiant Blue white star, with a surface temperature of around 11800 K will turn into a supergiant red star and explode and leave behind a neutron star. Rigel’s mass is 18 solar masses, slighly more than Betelgeuse.

    Stars come in different colors:

    Blue Zeta Puppis: 33 000 C

    Blue White Rigel: 12 000 C

    White Blue Sirius:10 000 C

    White Procyon A: 7 700 C

    White Yellow SUN: 6 053 C

    Yellow Orange Ceti:5 300 C

    Orange Alpha B: 5 000 C

    Dark Orange Epsilon

    Eridani: 4 400 C

    Dark Orange Epsilon

    Indi: 4 000 C

    Red Barnard Star: 3 500 C

    Gliese star: 3 300 C

    Proxima Centauri: 2 800 C

    Dark Red Wolf 359: 2 400 C..

  30. Report this comment

    Mullenite said:

    The star Betelgeuse, which is 600 light-years away, will already have exploded – and we’ll soon be in for a spectacular, and perfectly safe, interstellar fireworks show. If it is going to go Super Nova, well, it already has…somewhere around 1411. We just can’t see it yet. Funny how that works, huh One thing about the Super Nova. It will rise in the sky at midnight on Sept 22, 2011. It will light up the Eastern sky as if it were dawn. And at dawn we are going to see 2 suns in the sky.

  31. Report this comment

    Derek said:

    There is absolutely no way of knowing if Betelgeuse went supernova. No one can predict anything like that faster than the speed of light. The supposed date of 21 September 2011 has gone and went; we’re still standing!

    If it did go supernova centuries ago, we have no concrete way of knowing. Heck, due to the changing parallax and the constant fluctuation of that star, we don’t know how far away that star really is.

    It’s a crap shoot at best. For those who claim they know exactly when that star will blow up or have already done so, they better take their lithium.

    BTW. this whole idiocy of basing a stellar event hundreds of light-years away on an ancient calendar is bunk. The date 21 December 2012 is nothing more than a shortcoming of the lunar Mayan calendar. That calendar simply resets its day back to 0. Some scholar even have attempted to extend said calendar. Also other than a few Mayans, who still uses that calendar on a regular basis?

    If it were to go supernova, the resulting gamma ray bursts (from a resulting black hole, neutron star, or pulsar) would have very little, if any, effect on life on Earth. Betelgeuse’s axis is pointed away from us.

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