New research reveals that Betelgeuse, also known as Alpha Orionis, is now in it final carbon burning at the core and might go supernova within our lifetime.
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Betelgeuse: A Supernova Waiting to Happen
Alpha Orionis, a red supergiant star located a little more than 650 light-years from Earth, is on the brink of a spectacular end. Recent research suggests that this star, known for its pulsations and unusual brightness, is nearing the end of its life and is set to explode as a supernova within our lifetime. This event, when it occurs, will be one of the most significant astronomical events of the century.
The Pulsating Giant
Betelgeuse, one of the largest stars visible to the naked eye, has been the subject of intense astronomical interest due to its erratic brightness changes. The star’s outer layers pulse in a rhythm, causing it to swell and shrink, leading to changes in brightness. These pulsations have been tracked with regular cycles of 185, 230, 420, and 2,200 days, with additional less predictable variations.
The great dimming of 2019-20 was partly caused by an outburst of dust, but also involved the troughs of several cycles coinciding. This pulsation, combined with the star’s enormous size and relatively close proximity to Earth, makes this star a unique object of study for astronomers.
The Countdown to Explosion
The recent changes in the star’s brightness might be more significant than we thought. A preprint study indicates that the red giant is fusing carbon in its core, and when this runs out, it will be only a few decades before it explodes.
The study argues that the star is not only burning carbon but is starting to run out. Once the carbon-burning phase finishes, the end is a matter of a few decades away. This discovery, if confirmed, could provide us with a rare opportunity to witness a supernova explosion within our lifetime.
The Impending Supernova
The impending explosion of the star will result in a galactic-supernova, a stellar explosion that briefly outshines an entire galaxy, radiating as much energy as the Sun is expected to emit over its entire life span.
The explosion of Alpha Orionis will create a light similar in brightness to the full Moon. Although supernovas can cause great damage to planets in their galactic neighborhood, Alpha Orionis is far enough away to not do any damage, while still giving us a front-row view of possibly the galaxy’s first galactic-supernova since 1604.
Betelgeuse, a red supergiant star, is nearing the end of its life and is set to explode as a galactic-supernova within our lifetime. Recent changes in Alpha Orionis’s brightness and a study indicating the star is running out of carbon to fuse in its core suggest that this spectacular event could happen sooner than later. This explosion will provide a unique opportunity for astronomers to study a supernova up close, enriching our understanding of the universe.
The Uncertainty of Timing
While the research suggests that Alpha Orionis is set to explode within our lifetime, the exact timing remains uncertain. The star could explode in a few decades, or it could still be thousands of years away. The uncertainty stems from the difficulty in determining star’s exact size and the stage of its life. However, the recent changes in its brightness and the new research findings suggest that the explosion could happen sooner rather than later.
The explosion of Alpha Orionis as a galactic-supernova will be a spectacular event, providing a unique opportunity for astronomers to study a supernova up close. As we continue to monitor Alpha Orionis, we will undoubtedly learn more about the life and death of stars, enriching our understanding of the universe.