Betelgeuse is a giant red star located 642.5 light-years away from us, and it’s countless times bigger than our Sun. Therefore, Betelgeuse is usually one of the brightest stars in the night sky, easily getting into the top 10. But this has changed recently since the giant star is at its dimmest stage it has been in almost a hundred years. This led to some grim speculation by astronomers, who think that the celestial object is about to explode and thus form a supernova.
Villanova University’s Edward Guinan claims in an Astronomer’s Telegram that the red giant began to dim in October. Until December, it wasn’t even in the top 20 brightest stars in the night sky, after originally being in the top 10.
We are safe
If Betelgeuse will explode and automatically form a supernova, we don’t have reasons to worry about being caught by the tremendous explosion. Since the red giant is 642.5 light-years away from Earth, even light itself would need 642.5 years to get to us from the star. But nothing can travel faster than light, as Einstein proved it using pure mathematics.
However, it’s not the dimming itself that shocks scientists. Betelgeuse has to dim from time to time, being classified as a variable star. The mystery lies in the huge difference from the star’s luminosity: from one of the brightest to such low intensity.
While the scenario of Betelgeuse exploding might be frightening to a lot of people, astronomers are actually excited by the idea. Another reason why they believe the red giant will explode is its age: ‘only’ 8.5 million years old. Stars of its kind and age are usually approaching their imminent death. However, UC Berkeley’s Sarafina Nance tells us via Twitter: “Disclaimer: I don’t think it’s going to explode any time soon,”
We don’t know what exactly ‘soon’ means for Sarafina Nance, but at an astronomical scale, it could mean thousands or even millions of years. But even if Betelgeuse explodes tomorrow, there will still be needed a lot of time for the light of the explosion to reach us (up to 642.5 years), so we won’t be seeing any difference on the night sky until then.