Institute of Astronomy

Is Betelgeuse about to explode?

Published on 01/05/2011 
Question: 

I have never seen Betelgeuse so red with naked eye - is it about to blow?

Betelgeuse is remarkably red - but maybe it's just looked so brilliant at the moment because of the lovely clear nights we've been having! You're right that as Betelgeuse is a 'red giant' star it's in the final stages of its life and is (as you so poetically put it...) about to blow, in the form of a dramatic supernova explosion. The catch here is that when astronomers mean 'about', it could be any time in the next few  thousands of years... no-one knows exactly when it might happen, and there aren't any observations suggesting it's particularly imminent... We'll certainly know when it does occur; at around 640 light-years distant Betelgeuse will become very much brighter in the sky, perhaps briefly becoming bright enough to be visible during the day.

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Page last updated: 2 May 2011 at 11:09