In a bit of news from the, “technological innovation is not a calendar” department, reporting from news.com.au claims that scientists believe the star Betelgeuse is on the route to a fiery oblivion before 2012.
That’s accurate in the sense that Betelgeuse, the tenth brightest star in terms of apparent magnitude–the brightest stars one can see from earth—is indeed going to transform from a red supergiant into a supernova.
As for when that could happen, however, don’t believe everything you read: This has a high unlikelihood of happening in 2012 (the star would have had to supernova in the middle ages). There’s simply no accurate way to predict when such a celestial event might occur.
“But what’s all this fuss about the star exploding by 2012? That’s complete garbage,” writes Discovery News’ Ian O’Neill. “There is absolutely no indication that the star will explode in the next year or so. Even the most advanced telescopes and sophisticated computer models cannot predict an exploding star with that precision!”
But even if it were to go boom tomorrow, don’t expect that the mighty blast would be equitable to the scene in Star Wars where Luke Skywalker stares out across the dessert, framed by the planet Tatooine’s two suns. Nuh-uh. Neither will the supernova affect Earth in any painful capacity—using the same Star Wars analogy, Betelgeuse’s death isn’t going to be akin to the shockwave one sees when the Death Star blows up. The star’s distance from Earth, 640 light-years, will play a large part in its overall effect.
“At that distance, it’ll get bright, about as bright as the full Moon. That’s pretty bright! It’ll hurt your eyes to look at it, but that’s about it,” says Discover’s Phil Plait.
And as for claims that we could have a second sun on our hands? “That’s totally wrong,” he adds. “It won’t even get 1/100,000th that bright. Still bright, but it’s not going to cook us. Even if it were going to explode soon. Which it almost certainly isn’t.”
That said, it’s not as if Betelgeuse isn’t packing some serious stellar power: The star itself is roughly 18 to 19 times the mass of the Sun, with a brightness (or luminosity) of 100,000 times greater than the Sun itself. Were one to pick it up and plop it directly into our solar system, replacing said Sun, the width of Betelgeuse would easily extend out to around Jupiter’s current orbit.