One of the brightest stars you’ll see in the sky these days is Betelgeuse star, whose red tones provide a fun sky watching target in February. Betelgeuse star is one of the three stars that make up the Winter Triangle and can be seen rising in the east just after sunset at the beginning of January each year.
This monster star is about 1,000 times the size of our sun, according to NASA, and sits on the shoulder of the famous constellation Orion. The star is variable, meaning that it brightens and dims periodically.
Betelgeuse star is about 15-20 times as massive as the Sun. An object that big is likely to go supernova at some point. So, it wasn’t crazy to wonder when this unusual dimming occurred that Betelgeuse star might be about to let go in a spectacular explosion.
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Betelgeuse star is the 10th brightest star in the night sky, making it easy for us to spot. Just like with Rigel, we want to look over towards Swampy Summit in the northwest. Here we will find these three stars in a row, Orion’s belt. Just down and to the right of this is Betelgeuse star, a red supergiant star, which marks the right shoulder of the huntsman Orion.
Other bright red stars include Aldebaran, located to the upper right of Orion, and Antares, which shines in constellation Scorpius and seen in the summer evening sky.
Betelgeuse star fiery appearance is striking in a telescope of any size, suggesting a burning ember flaring from the black of space. Betelgeuse star varies in brightness by 1.2 magnitude, at an irregular rate.
While it may look small to us, Betelgeuse star is so large that if it were our sun, it would swallow the orbits of Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars. The light from this star has travelled for around 700 years to reach us here on Earth.
At the moment, Betelgeuse star will be visible from the time it gets dark until around midnight, when it will disappear below the horizon. If we have clear skies over the next few nights, pop outside and see if you can spot Betelgeuse star in the sky.
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You can easily find Betelgeuse star in the constellation Orion anytime between November and February. RIght now, in New York City, Betelgeuse star is rising in daylight, so you’ll see it as soon as the sky darkens enough. The star is remaining above the horizon until a few hours before dawn.
If you imagine Orion as its namesake, “the hunter,” Betelgeuse star marks the left-hand shoulder. The star is so bright and red, even in light-polluted areas, that you can’t miss it. Betelgeuse star is easily visible to the eye, and you won’t see much more detail using binoculars or a telescope.
Even if you can’t name many points in the sky, you’ll definitely know Betelgeuse star by sight. It’s the orange dot in the top-left corner of Orion – or bottom-right, if you’re viewing the constellation in the Southern Hemisphere.
Close to Earth, relatively speaking, at a distance of about 550 light-years, Betelgeuse star is what’s known as a semi-regular variable star. It naturally brightens and darkens over a period of roughly 400 days.
Red supergiants are stars that are close to the end of their life and it is estimated by astronomers that Betelgeuse star might end its life in a supernova explosion in the next ten to hundred thousand years. When this happens, it will send its store of heavy elements into our galaxy.
The behaviour led many to speculate that it might be about to explode. But a team using the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile says the cause was almost certainly a giant dust cloud between us and the star.
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Today, astronomers know that Betelgeuse star varies in brightness because it’s a dying, red supergiant star with a diameter some 700 times larger than our sun. Someday, the star will explode as a supernova and give humanity a celestial show before disappearing from our night sky forever.
In the December of 2019, astronomers started to report that Betelgeuse star, the bright reddish star in the constellation Orion, had started to undergo a sudden and drastic dimming in its luminosity, even visible to the naked eye.
The dimming peaked in mid February of 2020, where it reached 35 per cent of its brightness. The star’s brightness went back up, but the astronomy community was captivated. The researchers compared pictures before, during and after the dimming, and did some modelling to see what kind of behaviour might give rise to the views obtained.
That eventual explosion explains why astronomers got excited when Betelgeuse star started dimming dramatically in 2019. The last supernova observed in our Milky Way Galaxy was Kepler’s Star, which was observed in 1604. Records from astronomers at the time indicate it was visible during the day for over three weeks.
Humans would be able to see the supernova in the daytime sky for roughly a year, he says. And it would be visible at night with the naked eye for several years, as the supernova aftermath dims.
Life on Earth will be unharmed. But that doesn’t mean it will go unnoticed. Goldberg and Bauer found that when Betelgeuse star explodes, it will shine as bright as the half-moon — nine times fainter than the full moon — for more than three months.
But the supernova could still impact Earth in some surprising ways. For example, Howell points out that many animals use the moon for navigation and are confused by artificial lights. Adding a second object as bright as the moon could be disruptive. It’s not only wildlife that would be disturbed, either; ironically, astronomers themselves would have a hard time.
Two American Navy cargo ships were named for the Betelgeuse star, both used in World War II. They were the USS Betelgeuse (AKA-11) and USS Betelgeuse (AK-260). The French also had a super tanker named Betelgeuse which exploded as it was discharging oil off Ireland in 1979. Fifty persons were killed.