Betelgeuse, a star located 700 light-years from us, used to be one of the shiniest cosmic bodies in the night sky. As a matter of fact, it was easy to discern with the naked eye as it luminously shone from the constellation Orion.
That is somehow to be expected from a star that is quite close to Earth, also labeled as a red supergiant star, expanding approximately 700 times as wide as the Sun. However, in the last period, something seems to have consumed parts of Betelgeuse. As per a newly published study from scientists at Pennsylvania’s Villanova University, the star has dimmed abruptly in the last two months. Researchers believe it’s about 2.5 times dimmer than its typical brighter self, descending from the ninth brightest cosmic body in the sky to the 23rd.
As a changeable star, Betelgeuse increases and decreases in brightness as part of its natural evolution. But the fact that is losing its brightness so quickly makes astronomers believe it might be prone to go supernova.
Ready To Go Supernova
When a star approaches the end of its life, it usually dims before expelling a brightness that’s hastily greater than usual. If Betelgeuse does go supernova, its proximity to our planet will make it a very bright object in the sky, whether it will be day or night.
“I personally think it’s going to bounce back, but it’s fun to watch stars change,” lead paper author Ed Guinan said. Even though he adds, if Betelgeuse keeps dimming, “all bets are off.”
Guinan, who has been monitoring the star for decades, says that the object’s distance from Earth makes a specific estimation impossible.
“What causes the supernova is deep inside the star,” Guinan explains.
However, since it is located 700 light-years from our planet, Betelgeuse may have already approached its end; that is because astronomers can only discover its demise after it would have traveled to us for 700 years. But its abrupt fainting does imply that the red giant is slowly turning into a supernova.
Moreover, the shock wave, radiation, and cosmic junk left from Betelgeuse’s death would not get to our Solar System for approximately 6 million years from now, as National Geographic explains. The Sun would also protect Earth from getting soaked with star remnants.
“It would be so incredibly cool!” astronomer Sarafina Nance, who was not in the team that studied the star, tells National Geographic. “By far and away, the most incredible thing to happen in my life.”