Betelgeuse and 2012

By Phil Plait | January 21, 2011 7:00 am

I swear, I need to trust my instincts. As soon as I saw the article on the news.com.au site desperately trying to link Betelgeuse going supernova with the nonsense about the Mayans and 2012, my gut reaction was to write about it.

But no, I figured a minute later, this story would blow over. So to speak.

I should’ve known: instead of going away, it gets picked up by that bastion of antiscience, The Huffington Post.

Grrrr.

The actual science in the original article is pretty good; they talked with scientist Brad Carter who discusses the scenario of Betelgeuse going supernova. The whole story is pretty interesting — I wrote about it in detail the last time there was nonsense about Betelgeuse blowing up — but in a nutshell Betelgeuse is a red supergiant star in Orion with about 20 times the mass of the Sun, and it’s very near the end of its life. When stars this massive die, they explode as supernovae. The distance to Betelgeuse is unclear (it has a very puffy outer atmosphere which makes distance determination somewhat dicey) but it’s something like a bit more than 600 light years, way way too far away to hurt us.

It’s the question of when that the two articles go off the rails. Betelgeuse may explode tomorrow night, or it may not go kerblooie until the year 100,000 A.D. We don’t know. But given that huge range, the odds of it blowing up next year are pretty slim. And clearly, the original article was really trying to tie in the 2012 date to this, even when it has nothing to do with anything. The tie-in was a rickety link to scuttlebutt on the web about it, but that’s about it.

What’s worse, the HuffPo article attributes the date to Dr. Carter himself, but in the original article he never says anything about it; the connection is all made by the article author. Given how popular HuffPo is, I imagine a lot of people will now think an actual scientist is saying Betelgeuse will blow up in 2012.

OK then, tell you what: I’m an actual scientist, and I would give the odds of Betelgeuse going supernova in 2012 at all — let alone close to December, the supposed doomsdate — as many thousands to one against. It’s not impossible, it’s just really really really really really really really unlikely.

Really.

[UPDATE: CNN, Time, and other sites have picked up on this as well, mostly just repeating what was said in HuffPo. Fox News got it right, quoting me from my earlier Betelgeuse article, but I had to laugh: they got my blog name and host wrong, and the link they put up for me goes to my friend Ian O’Neill’s article!]

I’m glad that both articles are clear that there is no danger from the star if and when it explodes. It’s simply too far away to do us any physical harm; a supernova would have to be within 25 light years or so before it would start to do measurable damage to Earth, and it would have to be much closer before that harm rose to the level of actual danger.

At 600+ light years, a supernova would be pretty bright, but hardly bright enough to be a second Sun, as both articles say. Sorry, no Tatooine-like sunsets for us. It wouldn’t even be as bright as the full Moon, really, but certainly far brighter than Venus. Enough to cast a shadow, which would actually be pretty cool.

And even better would be the science! Oh my, a close supernova like that would be a huge boon to astronomy. The ones we see are all so far away that details are too small to detect, but one that close would be like having it under the microscope*. We’d learn a huge amount. The funny thing is, it would be so bright astronomers would have a hard time using their best equipment, which would get swamped with all that light. I wonder how many amateur astronomers would suddenly find themselves able to do science the professionals couldn’t…

And of course, the best thing of all in having Betelgeuse explode is that it would bring billions of people outside and looking up. Betelgeuse is in a part of the sky that makes it visible everywhere on Earth but pretty much the south pole. Far from being a harbinger of doomsday, it might actually be the single greatest benefit to astronomy that’s happened in hundreds of years.

Take that, Mayan apocalypse fearmongers!

Tip o’ the lead shield to kk074. Image credits: ESO; IOTA; NASA/ESA.

[UPDATE: I just saw that my pal astronomer Ian O’Neill has written about this as well, and he noticed a lot of the same stuff I did about the articles.]



* Yeah, that’s probably a mixed metaphor, or actually a simile. But you know what’s like a simile? A metaphor.


Related posts:

Is Betelgeuse about to blow?
No, a nearby supernova won’t wipe us out
Spotting Betelgeuse
Betelgeuse shocker
What is the nearest star to Earth that can go supernova?


CATEGORIZED UNDER: Antiscience, Astronomy, Top Post

Comments (218)

Links to this Post

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  1. Even if it were as bright as the sun, it would still be just a dot, right? Once more reason it wouldn’t be like Tatooine.

  2. Science Help Us if it does blow next year. You can just IMAGINE the cr@p that’ll be written if it goes up. Hopefully all the antiscientists will go nuts and drink their own Kool Aid, in the original meaning of the phrase.

  3. Gonçalo Aguiar

    It will actually cast a shadow?? Incredible! Will it hurt to stare at it with the naked eye?

  4. Scottynuke

    Well, if Betelgeuse DOES go supernova next year, we won’t know about it until about 2612 anway, so…

  5. I work with people who are absolutely convinced that the world is going to end in 2012. It puzzles me why they are still bothering to work when they should believe that there’s no point.

    I remember I once asked them what they’ll think on January 1, 2013 but they just dodged the question.

  6. I’ve always wondered about the classic Scf-Fi scenario, where a planet’s sun is about to go supernova.
    What kind of early warning would they get? How precisely could they estimate the critical moment?
    Would a planet around a supernova candidate star have a long enough period of stability to evolve life? With all the red giant swelling and eating planets…..

  7. Mick

    Um… is it just me, or was the original article written very tongue in cheek? That is to say, I don’t think it was taking itself all that seriously. Heck the caption under the picture says:

    “Twin suns – setting on Earth any day now. Rumours of possible wamp rats and Sarlaac manifestation yet to be confirmed.”

    This of course does not sound particularly serious. The Huffington Post may very well have latched onto it and tried to treat it as serious journalism, but I’m pretty sure that the original article was done just for a bit of a lark.

    Need I point out that the author wrote ‘interwebs’?

    LOL…

  8. To be really pedantic, even if it does go nova next year, we won’t know it has until around 2650, right?

  9. Sachi Wilson

    Don’t forget that if Betelgeuse goes supernova in 2012 we won’t see it for another 600 years anyway!

  10. Bobbar

    I just hope I’m around to see it.

  11. Hey, didn’t you have a chapter about this sort of thing is some book I hear that you may have written? :D

  12. Shoy

    To be clear, are you talking about it exploding in 2012, or it having exploded in ~1412 and it just now appearing to explode?

  13. Adam

    I read HuffPo daily, it’s better then Drudge, but I’ve always been bothered when they delve into scientific issues. The home page doesn’t have a science section, but that doesn’t stop them from making careless statements regarding many different scientific topics.

    From Jenny McCarthy to Robert Lanza to Deepak Chopra. It drives me nuts.

    Maybe they could bring Phil on to debunk most of the junk science they publish.

  14. @Adam # 11: I don’t think there is enough time in a year for Dr. Plait to debunk that much bad science…. ;)

  15. Timmy

    Would Betelgeuse disappear after the supernova? Because that would ruin my favorite constellation.

    Also, according to the Huffpo article, we would be showered with silver and gold, so that’s cool… ;)

  16. Arik Rice:

    I work with people who are absolutely convinced that the world is going to end in 2012. It puzzles me why they are still bothering to work when they should believe that there’s no point.

    I remember I once asked them what they’ll think on January 1, 2013 but they just dodged the question.

    Offer to buy their house for $1,000. You’ll pay them now, and you take possession 1-Jan-2013.

  17. CJSF

    @Adam – I may be remembering wrong, but I think Phil DID write for The Huffington Post, but decided to stop due to things like this.

    @Scottynuke and Nick – Phil has also written about this before. When we say something like that will happen at a certain time, we mean when we observe it. We can’t know until then anyway.

    Phil, if you read these comments, maybe a linky to a post where you explain it?

    CJSF

  18. JohnW

    @2 Paul Parkinson – I’m actually looking forward to seeing what creative conspiracy theories are made up to explain it. Some sort of star shield to keep us from seeing its true brightness, maybe…

  19. Adam

    One thing I keep thinking is that when it does go supernova… Assuming we’re still around to see it, will it make deep sky observing difficult? It could potentially obscure a few great astronomical targets including the Orion and Horsehead nebula. For that matter, if it’s bright enough it could obscure the whole sky.

    You know how it always seems to be cloudy when you buy new astronomy equipment? Well my guess is Betelgeuse will go supernova the day I take ownership of my Astrophysics mount.

  20. Betelgeuse topic and not one reference to Ford Prefect? I’m dissapointed.

  21. John

    @Nick – we will not know when it happened in Earth time until we see it. We then count backwards 600 years from when we see it.

  22. Fernando

    Phil, can you PLEASE become a contributor to HuffPo so we can get an actual scientist telling it like it is on that website. I read HuffPo often and seeing things like that article makes me wonder why.

  23. @17 Adam – It would probably hamper deep sky observing for a little while, but the actual flash of the supernove would fade fairly quickly, within a couple months, I think. After that, it would give amateurs a very interesting new object to observe and photograph. It would also give amatuers the opportunity to contribute a quite a bit to the professional astronomers.

    Large telescope time is expensive. A million amateurs contributing observational, photographic and photometric information about this new object would be a boon to the professionals. Kinda like SETI @home.

  24. buttie

    One of my ‘things to do before death’ is see the blowing supernova with naked eye. Betelgeuse is for now the best candidate and if it would be so kind to blow on December 2012 it would doubled the fun.
    All those ‘the end is near’ nutters would go crazy. :)

  25. Peter B

    Goncalo Aguiar at #3 asked: “It will actually cast a shadow?? Incredible! Will it hurt to stare at it with the naked eye?”

    No. Read what the Bad Astronomer said in the previous sentence: “It wouldn’t even be as bright as the full Moon…” You can look at the Moon when it’s full, can’t you?

  26. Bruce K

    Heck, for all we know, Betelgeuse might have already blown up anytime in the last 600 years, and we wouldn’t know it yet.

  27. David

    “To be really pedantic, even if it does go nova next year, we won’t know it has until around 2650, right?”

    If it goes supernova next year what we really mean is that it went supernova already 600 years ago and we are only just finding out about it. We have no way to measure anything about it in real time. So the time light takes to reach us from Betelgeuse is almost a moot point.

  28. Ray

    Sorry guys, but the world is ending on 21 May 2011. Harold Camping used the Bible to predict the rapture for that date. So Bettle Juice going super in 2012 is moot.

  29. James

    I hope I am around to see it. Some points made in the posts above, when it does go supernova how long will the brightness last, and what will happen after? Its so easy to see that constellation even here in light polluted Dallas, but once its missing a star I’m going to miss its symmetry.

  30. Tony

    If I could ask to see one thing happen in my lifetime, aside from someone finding a way around the light barrier, and a means to make it practical transportation, would be to see Betelgeuse go up. It would be such a brilliant thing to see the sky change so dramatically. I can only imagine the inspiration such an event could be for so many.

  31. OmegaBaby

    Wow…that article was a confused mess. Here’s what I got out of the article.

    When Betelgeuse goes supernova…
    1) It will position itself opposite the Sun so that there is no nighttime on Earth.
    2) The explosion will be so energetic that it will turn Betelgeuse into a black hole, and fling it another 700 light years away from Earth so that it ends up 1300 LY away.
    3) The resulting neutrino shower will be beneficial for Earth because it will make gold and silver on Earth and we will all be rich.

  32. Nick L

    Frankly, there’s a much bigger calamity that would happen with Betelgeuse just going supernova as opposed to it happening on some date in 2012.

    Everyone’s favourite mythological hunter would lose his shoulder.

  33. Gus Snarp

    Thanks for writing about this. A friend posted a link to the HuffPo article on Facebook, and I took it with the usual grain of salt that anything on HuffPo should be taken, especially on scientific matters. It also sounded like a lot of overheated puffery. So I turned right away to you to get the facts.

    Now if it really does go supernova in my lifetime I will be torn between the opportunity to see a nearby supernova and being saddened at the loss of a star in my favorite constellation, and one of the few stars I can readily identify in the night sky.

  34. Tony #24 said:

    I can only imagine the inspiration such an event could be for so many.

    Sadly, I disagree.

    I suspect it would be yet another opportunity for the human stupid gene to kick in. People would no doubt see the supernova as a sign from their god(s) that they alone are the righteous chosen ones and everybody else is wrong and inspired by the devil(s) and in need of purification. By fire, of course, or similar explosive effects. The usual shenanigans would ensue.

    Much as I would love to see a really bright supernova, I’d prefer to wait…indefinitely?…until we’ve evolved just a little more.

  35. David

    “Everyone’s favourite mythological hunter would lose his shoulder”

    No he would take a wound and get a bloody shoulder!

  36. Steph C

    Whenever I hear of science predicting Doomsday, I just wait for you to separate the fact from speculative fiction. Thank you for being the Internet’s voice of reason!

  37. Papa G

    No, the world will not end Dec.21, 2012. You will still need your house
    and a hell of a lot of food.

  38. Dean

    Betelgeuse going supernova would suck, only because it would ruin my favorite constellation. :-(

  39. Liam Bradey

    Just as an interesting aside, can you imagine how awesome the resulting nebula would look? I mean, Orion already has one of the most spectacular visible with amateur scopes, but two in the same patch of sky (visibly) would be stunning. Of course, the amount of time it would take to form something akin to the Orion nebula is epochal, so moot point, but still… :)

  40. NYPinTA

    I want to see it explode. Maybe the article was more about wishful thinking and less bunk science. (Not that that makes it OK to be so woefully wrong. I’m just saying…)

  41. Thameron

    So will Plait Tech Tonics be coming out with a Baytel Juice flavor if it goes supernova?

    I am with #2 Phil though. If it does go up next year we will never hear the end of the ‘See I told you so’s!’ From the 2012 doomsday crowd.

  42. Jim Keller

    “And of course, the best thing of all in having Betelgeuse explode is that it would bring billions of people outside and looking up.”

    Sorry, Phil, but Murphy’s Law works. When Betelgeuse goes supernova, it will almost assuredly be in June, and we’ll come back around the Sun and wonder where Orion’s shoulder went. :)

  43. Martha

    My horoscope says it will not go supernova next year :

  44. DigitalAxis

    @Everyone saying Betelgeuse would disappear:

    It wouldn’t disappear immediately… It would take a while to dim, during which time light from the supernova that took a longer path (bouncing off gas clouds near and possibly ejected from Betelgeuse) would form an ever-growing ring of light echoes, like 3D ripples in a pond.

    Then the supernova remnant itself would expand enough that we’d see IT as a ring or series of rings

    I am just thinking out loud, so I don’t know how much of this would be visible from the Earth… they might dim below 6th magnitude before they spread out far enough for the human eye to see.

  45. Old Muley

    Shouldn’t we be saying “if it went supernova in 1412?”

  46. Gary Ansorge

    Ah, Betelgeuse going supernova, just another example of a chaotic universe, doing its best to kill everything living. We are SO lucky, still here after all these billions of years(Hello? Mr. Spock? Is this the reason you’re not answering?)

    ,,,and the following link is about how NOT fine tuned the universe is for life, since there would be much more visible matter(the kind we’re made of) if the cosmological constant was just a little bit negative, instead of having the positive value it does.

    Maybe when God was pushing the button to start everything rolling, He said “Let there be Li,,,Oops. Dang it Shaitan. Quit messing with the parameters.”

    http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/arxiv/26276/?nlid=4019

    Gary 7

  47. “A lie told enough enough will become the truth”
    — Lenin

    “The Big Lie”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Lie

    “Richard Belzer defines The Big Lie, in his book UFOs, JFK, and Elvis: Conspiracies You Don’t Have To Be Crazy To Believe, this way: “If you tell a lie that’s big enough, and you tell it often enough, people will believe you are telling the truth, even when what you are saying is total crap.””

    “That is of course rather painful for those involved. One should not as a rule reveal one’s secrets, since one does not know if and when one may need them again. The essential English leadership secret does not depend on particular intelligence. Rather, it depends on a remarkably stupid thick-headedness. The English follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous”
    — Joseph Goebbels

    “His primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it”
    — “Hitler as his Associates Know Him”
    [ report prepared during the war by the United States Office of Strategic Services in describing Hitler’s psychological profile ]

  48. Michael Swanson

    My girlfriend was reading something online this morning and said, “Did you know that Betelgeuse is going to explode next year? We’ll have two suns for a few weeks.” I paused and said, diplomatically, ” I hadn’t heard that.”

    Then I turned on my computer and came straight here, and promptly sent her the link to this article. I like to ruin peoples’ fun with science! :)

  49. Brad

    So, my question in all this EotW stuff is: Does the whole universe end, or just Terra Firma? And for that matter, is it all life on the 3rd Rock ending, or just human life? What would it take for the entire universe to end all at once? I would think every star would have to form a black hole simultaneously, but that wouldn’t even be enough, since even black holes don’t pull in their surrounding material instantaneously. So in order for the EotW predictions to be any kind of plausible, it would have to be just life on our own tiny blue dot to end.

    Maybe on December 21st, 2012, every person on earth will just drop dead from collective stupidity overriding natural common sense.

    One last thing: Would it look like Orion is getting a buff to his right shoulder plate? Maybe a holy enchantment to boost dark magic defense? Maybe the more important question is what he needs dark magic defense from? Should we be consulting the church on this matter?

    And can we start a support group for those of us that have to debunk junk science all day for those around us? It’s getting tiring. (Looking at you, Mike #47)

  50. Dennis

    “Everyone’s favourite mythological hunter would lose his shoulder.”

    One of those bears up there will have bitten him. The mystery will be which.

  51. Maybe on December 21st, 2012, every person on earth will just drop dead from collective stupidity overriding natural common sense.

    How do you explain the continued existence of (pick favorite bastion of stupidity, like Congress, Texas BoE, creationists, etc.)? If stupidity were terminal, why are there still so many idiots?

    Oh, and common sense is really bunk! Mostly it’s observational, and the brain is too easy to fool. http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?t=198033&highlight=common+sense

  52. chris j.

    one other neat effect of going SN would be to finally resolve the distance to betelgeuse as we measure the light echoes and the expanding shock wave. at first i thought we might be able to tell by its light curve, but i guess that doesn’t work for core-collapse supernovae.

  53. Chris A.

    Correct me if I’m wrong (n.b. what does it say about the Internet the acronyms IMHO, IIRC, and FWIW are quite common, but not CMIIW?), but don’t we expect that Betelgeuse will become a lot more interesting before it goes kablooey (i.e. massive pulsations and outflows, ala Eta Carinae)? IOW, if it was going to blow up in 2012, shouldn’t we have been seeing it get all wobblies, say, for the last few centuries already?

    Also, for those who are saying “if it blows up in 2012, we won’t know about it until 2652,” sorry, no. Einstein says your “now” is your “now.” That is, we can talk about light travel times until we’re blue in the face, but because simultaneity is not absolute, attempts to talk about when something “really” happened as opposed to when you observe it are doomed to failure (because another observer, with a different velocity relative to Betelgeuse, will disagree with you as to when Betelgeuse “really” blew up). That leaves us with two choices: We can talk about when events happen in a reference frame that is stationary with respect to the event in question (i.e. Betelgeuse’s reference frame), or we can simply speak of when things happen in our reference frame, which is much more convenient (especially since our velocity relative to Betelgeuse is constantly changing due to the motion of the earth and sun).

    Simply put: Talk about events happening when we see them, unless there’s a compelling reason to bring relativity into it.

  54. KISS. Betelgeus pops on 21 December 2012 locally. The terrestrial neutrino blast transmutes Cl-37 into Ar-37, electron capture-decay half-life of 35 days. Gamma emissions cook your bloodstream and the oceans medium rare as whole planet absorption and subsequent heat release fuel vulcanism and plate tectonics. This is not the fun part.

    The fun part is a solar mass of Ni-56 (half-life 6.075 days, electron capture, gamma-emmiter) then daughter Co-56 (half-life 77.3 days, hard positron emitter, gamma) to Fe-56. Add annihalation radiation. All satellites (communication, weather, GPS) will be prompt toast, ISS FUBAR will prompt toast (a good thing. Watch the skies, Shire of Esperance!), and the atmosphere will glow like a sunlamp with hard UV. Lagging behind the neutrino then gamma blasts will be a positron blast shredding the mangetosphere. Sustained EMP will fry anything with a wire – power and telephone utilties, home wiring.

    When the first Friday of no Welfare checks arrives… trouble.

  55. every time I read a so-called “science” article on the web, I then check phil’s blog, because I know he’ll give me the truth. :)

    as cool as it might be to live on a brand new Tatooine, it’s even cooler to be able to share the truth, because that’s actually way more interesting!

  56. Daniel J. Andrews

    Everyone’s favourite mythological hunter would lose his shoulder

    It’s just a flesh wound.

  57. Papabear

    I wish you would have written about it immediately. I got the huffpo article sent to me by a woo leaning friend. I came here first hoping you already had it covered. Damn you for forcing me to research on my own.

  58. Earl Truss

    Michael #49 – sorry to hear about your girlfriend leaving you.

  59. Ben

    You might want to tell FoxNews as well that it isn’t the second biggest star in the universe.

  60. “It wouldn’t even be as bright as the full Moon…” You can look at the Moon when it’s full, can’t you?

    That was my first thought, too, but the Moon’s light isn’t concentrated into a point.

  61. Tom Weinstein

    If it’s anywhere near as bright as the full Moon, wouldn’t that be bad to look at? Considering it’s a point source, the areal brightness would be very high. Couldn’t that do damage to your eye? If this actually happened, would it trigger a world-wide wave of blindness?

  62. amphiox

    Sorry guys, but the world is ending on 21 May 2011. Harold Camping used the Bible to predict the rapture for that date.

    Not really. The rapture will occur a little more than 1000 years before the end of the world. A 2012 explosion would be early into the tribulation, at which point in time we might not even yet know the identity of the anti-christ. But I guess we’ll lose the expertise of all the fundamentalist Christian astronomers.

    Everyone’s favourite mythological hunter would lose his shoulder

    But would he? After the supernova the star will be replaced by the post-explosion nebula. There ought to be a reasonable chance that this nebula will be bright enough to be visible with the naked eye. Orion could remain intact.

  63. Your last point is really important; a cosmic event like a nearby supernova might be the best thing to happen to our species in a long time. We’ve become so mired in our terrestrial dramas and lost in our virtual worlds that we desperately need something like that to give us a cosmic perspective. In that sense I’m grateful for the 2012 myths; at least Mayan civilization had a cosmic perspective, and if nothing else they have given astronomers an opportunity to publicly promote a modern cosmic perspective by debunking the alarmists with science.

  64. amphiox

    Of course, the amount of time it would take to form something akin to the Orion nebula is epochal, so moot point, but still… :)

    Not a moot point. A discernable nebula was already observable from the remnant of Supernova 1987A just a short time after the explosion itself. The remnant forms immediately after the explosion after all. Don’t know if it will be visible to the naked eye immediately after the supernova dims, but something would be there to be seen by some means, throughout the entire process, and it’s certainly going to be interesting to look at from the get-go.

  65. Jay

    I am an educator and an amateur astronomer and am very glad for Phil’s efforts. I teach astronomy/science (and another object that would seem to be a weird combo) and I run an after school astronomy program for grades 6th through 12th. Anyway, the point I want to make is that all this 2012 nonsense has caused me to devote a period on why these so called predictions are nonsense. In addition, and perhaps more important, I have had actual students ask why should they try in school if the world is going to end in 2012. The good news is that it leads to discussions about why they have to be responsible for finding out factual information for themselves and not letting others determine what they think. Thanks Phil as I have used some of your material in the classroom. Hope that is fine.

  66. HvP

    As I understand it, the huge region of nebulosity in Orion is about twice as far from us on the other side of Betelgeuse. I also assume that Betelgeuse is massive enough to collapse into a neutron star.

    Is Betelgeuse massive enough that the explosion or resulting remnant can energize the molecular cloud in the Orion system? Wouldn’t that be a sight to see many years from now!

  67. The Cosmist said:

    at least Mayan civilization had a cosmic perspective

    Uh, not really. The whole “end of the world in 2012″ thing is a modern construct. To the Mayans, it would have been just another year, albeit one in which they’d have to figuratively flip the page to a new calendar.

    They also rather liked their sacrificial bloodletting, so maybe not quite so admirable. Good riddance.

  68. HvP

    On second thought, I think I answered my own question. If Betelgeuse won’t have much effect on our system, and the Orion nebula system is about the same distance from it on the other side, then it can’t have much effect on that system either. Sadness.

    We should still get some pretty interesting light echoes though.

  69. Jojo

    “And of course, the best thing of all in having Betelgeuse explode is that it would bring billions of people outside and looking up.”
    ———
    Yes, but I am certain that if it has planets populated with life, no one there is going to be very happy when their star explodes! ;)

  70. Keith Bowden

    31 OmegaBaby:

    I am SO glad I didn’t read the article!

  71. bigdaddyhen

    Question. Assuming this happens, how soon before we can see it with the naked eye would someone be able to see it, and tell us it is coming? Would telescopes be able to “see” it before us on earth, or would they see it at the same time, just in better detail? I think I know any earth based scopes would just see it at the same time as us, as they can’t “see into the future”, but for some reason I always get that messed up. Are the space based scopes that would realistically “see” this first, as they are closer to it, or would we not know what they see, as it would take as long for it to tell us what they saw, as it would for us to see it on our own?

  72. DrFlimmer

    muahaha….

    actually, I think it would be very funny, to have something “astronomically” cool happening in 2012….. hmmm.. on a second thought, maybe not.

    Much better idea: Betelgeuse to blow up January the 2nd 2013 (not on 1st, since all the astronomers would still be drunk)…

    and please, when the northern hemisphere has winter, so we could actually see it at night….

  73. Zucchi

    I feel stupid, but I’m not understanding why the estimates of Betelgeuse’s distance vary so widely (from 489 ly in my Starry Night program, to 1300 ly in the stupid Huffington Post article). Isn’t the measurement based on annual parallax?

  74. BJN

    It’s obnoxious, but I usually start singing “Day-O” whenever I see Betelgeuse. In this case the more appropriate song is Harry Belafonte’s “Star-O” on the flipside of the single.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNgBHjjlHlE

    I welcome the apo-Calypso!

  75. Matt

    Making matters worse, CNN and Time are now running this “story” on their websites as well. Ugh.

  76. Dan I.

    Amazingly enough, FoxNews is actually reporting this somewhat accurately. They quote you Phil.

    http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2011/01/21/betelgeuse-explode-scientists-say/?test=faces

  77. certainly far brighter than Venus. Enough to cast a shadow, which would actually be pretty cool.

    Oh, wow! That would be fantastic! I really hope it somehow happens within my lifetime, because I’d love to see a star that bright.

  78. Wzrd1

    I’m firmly convinced it will be a visible supernova next year. Unless it isn’t. In which case, it most certainly will be on a different year. ;)

    It IS possible that SOME issues would be “felt” here on Earth, IF the pole of the star were pointed our way during and shortly after the initial explosion, but that would be a few older satellites getting fried.
    Which is highly likely in the next couple of years anyway, secondary to the solar maximum.

    BTW, ya outta see the cut and paste of the news.com.au story on CNN. Complete with “But Carter dismisses the doomsayers, pointing out that the implosion will shower the earth with tiny particles called neutrinos that are the building blocks of our planet’s most essential elements.”
    It’s obvious that the press these days is hiring junior high school drop outs.

  79. RobertC

    I’m gonna draw up a contract.

    $100 now for full and complete possession of all your stuff the day after the Mayan calendar runs out.

    December 22, 2012 and I’ll be rich!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Best Christmas ever! For me….

    I pledge to thrown no children out in the cold. I’ll buy them a bus ticket to Plant City, FL. Strawberries need pickin…

  80. hrmph. Fox News reporting something somewhat accurately. Now I KNOW the apocalypse is coming. :) :) :)

  81. Michael Swanson

    @ 59. Earl Truss

    “Michael #49 – sorry to hear about your girlfriend leaving you.”

    She’s used to it.

  82. Frank

    @Datanode…

    -Oh, wow! That would be fantastic! I really hope it somehow happens within my lifetime, because I’d love to see a star that bright.

    Really? On a clear day, at noon sharp, look strait up! Tadaaaaa!

  83. Bob_In_Wales

    [Pedantry on] Quote “until the year 100,000 A.D. ” Apart from being structurally incorrect (the correct form is, as we all know (sic), A.D. 100,000) isn’t this a tautology? Or is this just another lost cause? [Pedantry off]

  84. Daviticus

    Oh, HuffPo, I like you so much better when you don’t do science…

  85. If it’s anywhere near as bright as the full Moon, wouldn’t that be bad to look at? Considering it’s a point source, the areal brightness would be very high. Couldn’t that do damage to your eye? If this actually happened, would it trigger a world-wide wave of blindness?

    How?

    A lightbulb in a room gives off more photons to your retina.

  86. Mark Pitcavage

    Thank you for calling Huffington Post a “bastion of anti-science,” because that is one of the most accurate characterizations of this popular web site that I have ever seen, and it drives me crazy. I think the anti-science attitude of the Huffington Post would be worth a story on its own.

  87. I think the Pro’s (aka my coworkers) would be taking less than a 1 second exposure with a ND filter. I know I have at least 2 telescopes ready to go with ND filters for anything that close with cameras fast enough to do the work. Might even have a 3rd ready for the challenge.

  88. Tom Weinstein

    @Douglas Watts

    A lightbulb may generate a greater number of photons, but they get spread across your whole retina. A point source such as a supernova or a laser gets focused down to a small area, concentrating all of those photons on a single small area.

    However, it doesn’t seem to be as bad as I’d initially thought. The Sun is 4E5 times brighter than the moon, while the Moon is ~15x larger than the resolving power of the human eye. So the areal brightness on your retina of the supernova explosion (assuming a total brightness equal to the full Moon) would be around 1.8E3 dimmer than the Sun. I expect that’s far too dim to cause any damage.

  89. Joseph G

    @#54 Chris A: Thank you!
    Every time dates are mentioned, we have to start arguing about light lag. But as you correctly point out, causation itself travels at the speed of light. Information can’t exceed the “light barrier”, no matter what form it takes, because it would break causality.
    So for all intents and purposes, a distant event that we perceive as happening now is happening now – for us. Yes, we can infer that the light must have been traveling for quite some time to reach us, but as it’s impossible for us to get information about anything faster then light, it make a lot more sense to just treat our reference frame as “the” frame (it’s not like we’ve yet encountered any other critters in any other frames).

  90. Joseph G

    @#90 Mark Pitcavage: Ironically, 90% of the posters on HuffPo seem to be the sort likely to ridicule young-earth creationists and climate-change deniers. You know, “Right wing anti-science.” But yeah, when it comes to New Agey woo, then it’s ‘Katy, bar the freaking door!’

  91. Did the feed settings change? I’m suddenly not getting the whole article anymore.

    Looking at the raw RSS link shows this also. What gives?

  92. Joseph G

    @368 Kuhnigget: Exactly. I always wondered that people didn’t freak out when they get to the end of their yearly calendar. WE’VE RUN OUT OF DAYS!!! OH NOES!!!

    And of course the Mayans had a broad calendar that went on for centuries. If your kitchen calendar weighed several tons and was carved out of solid granite, you probably wouldn’t want to get a new one every year, either :P

  93. GWood

    Something else to consider here guys… at 600 lightyears distant, the star would have had to gone nova 600 years ago for us to see it now ergo… if it goes nova in 2012 anybody looking up at Orion in 2612 should have a really cool show.

  94. Messier Tidy Upper

    I’d rather see Eta Carinae go supernova in my lifetime than Betelguese – I love Orion just the way it is thanks! ;-)

    Eta Carinae is a better candidate and has been showing a few promising signs and is circumpolar where I live. Not so good for those in the northern hemiphere, natch, but great for me! :-D

    (Tries to think of a good alternative for both hemispheres – what’s a not too prominent but signficant enough to be well-monitored & known red supergiant? Mu Cepehi? Nah, too northern! Rasalgethi (Alpha-1 Herculis) maybe? Although Kaler doesn’t seem to think it has quite enough mass to explode.)

    The whole “NuAge Apocalpse-to 2012″ humbug is too silly for words. We’re going to take as our source of accurate info a bunch of medieval losers who thought that our Sun required the blood of human sacrifices to rise? Really? :roll:

    Besides isn’t 13 meant to be unluckier than 12 so shouldn’t it be 2013 not 2012 that we worry about? Also for those Christians trying to date the “Rapture / 2nd Coming” – didn’t Rabbi Jesus say something like : “NO man shall know the hour!” Which, I guess, doesn’t technically preclude a woman** calculating The Date and sharing it only with her female friends but .. no, I don’t think so!

    Fox News got it right, quoting me from my earlier Betelgeuse article, but I had to laugh: they got my blog name and host wrong, and the link they put up for me goes to my friend Ian O’Neill’s article!]

    Hmm .. methinks Fox news likes the BA & has done ever since he recommended Beck’s book. ;-)

    * I presume the wording there is meant to include everyone under the old man = women too rule but I suppose we can’t be sur eof that – just look what happened to the Nazgul King versus Eowyn in LotR when he forgot that possibility! ;-)

  95. CB

    The whole “NuAge Apocalpse-to 2012″ humbug is too silly for words. We’re going to take as our source of accurate info a bunch of medieval losers who thought that our Sun required the blood of human sacrifices to rise? Really?

    No, that’d just be silly. Instead, we’re going to use as our source of information a bunch of modern losers who ignorantly misinterpreted the beliefs of those medieval losers who thought that our Sun required the blood of human sacrifices to rise.

    That’s obviously much better. =D

  96. Jim Starluck

    Okay, so there’s no risk from a possible supernova. But what if you say his name three times?

  97. Messier Tidy Upper

    Sources linked :

    Kaler on Rasalgethi : http://stars.astro.illinois.edu/sow/rasalgethi.html

    & on Eta Carinae : http://stars.astro.illinois.edu/sow/etacar.html

    which won’t go supernova but hypernova instead – one better & another point in its favour, celestial fireworks ~wise. :-)

    Oh & here’s the Bad Astronomer’s recommendation for Beck’s book :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2010/05/13/glenn-beck-wait-a-sec-whos-the-idiot-again/

    which Beck (& Fox news?) seemed to oddly appreciate! ;-)

  98. Derik Silversten

    The whole 2012 thing has been an interesting read to me,but lets have some fun here for a minute.I have enjoyed reading all the doomsday scenerios involving 12-21-12.Any of you familiar with the story of Planet X or Nibiru?This Planet or brown Dwarf makes its way through our solar system every so many years and as it passes through.Its gravity supposedly causes all kinds of problems and has been responsible for many disasters in the past such as Noah’s Flood for one.Supposedly we are supposed to see it as a red spot in the sky next to sun as it approaches.Supposedly,the more southern on earth you live.You will be among the first to see it.What if this is one big conspiracy to hide the fact that this 2nd sun in the sky is actually Nibiru and is about to release big trouble on us all.Don’t worry,our government have already taken measures to save their own lives by building giant underground bunkers.Isn’t that spectacular?They get to live because they took our tax money and build these bunkers to save their asses while we are on our own to fend for ourselves and endure countless disasters.

  99. Messier Tidy Upper

    Also Kaler’s page about Betelguese is here :

    http://stars.astro.illinois.edu/sow/betelgeuse.html

    Noting, among other things, the uncertain range of estimates for its distance – which also has implications for Betelguese’s size, luminosity, etc .. (the further away it is then the bigger & more luminous, etc ..it is) plus that :

    If it [Betelgeux] were to explode today, it would become as bright as a gibbous Moon, would cast strong shadows on the ground, and would be seen easily in full daylight.

    Another website suggests this star :

    http://jumk.de/astronomie/special-stars/hr-8210.shtml

    IK Pegasi, otherwise known as HR 8210, is :

    “…probably the most dangerous star in our stellar neighborhood”

    A type Ia “white dwarf” future supernova candidate, IK Peg. is currently located just 150 light years from us. Mind you, given they note this about it :

    .. a narrow double made of a Delta Scuti star (A) and a very big white dwarf (B). Their separation from each other is too big for an interchange of matter. But this will change as soon as the A-star starts to expand to become a red giant. Then it will nearly reach the orbit of the white dwarf and … Thereby the white dwarf will soon exceed the Chandrasekhar limit of 1.44 solar masses.
    It is quite certain that HR 8210 will explode as a type Ia supernova some time in the future. Maybe in 10 000 years, but more likely in several million years. Emphasis added.

    I’m really not that worried by that particular one & rather doubt it qualifies as the *most dangerous* supernova candidate.

    OTOH, the Wolf-Rayet star and possible gamma ray burster supernova candidate, WR-104, as the noted by the BA here back in 2008 March 3rd :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2008/03/03/wr-104-a-nearby-gamma-ray-burst/

    really does seem to pose a slight threat to us although I still wouldn’t lose too much sleep over it! (Unless I’m carefully observing it myself natch!) ;-)

  100. LoboLoco

    It´s as you said many time. Why pseudo-science if the actual science is so amazing? You don´t need to tie Betelgeuse to that 2012-hoax and you don´t need to make up stories like it becoming as bright as a second sun. Given its size and that it´s near the end of its life makes it already sensational. And if it goes boom, it will be awesome, you can bet on it.
    It´s a shame that so many people will believe what the HuffPo says. It´d be better if the HuffPo, like Betelgeuse, were already at the end of its life…

  101. Joseph G

    @98 Messier Tidy Upper: Phil reccomended a book by Beck? As in Glenn Beck? As in, the worst thing to happen to chalk since eraser fights?
    *head asplodes*

    Srsly, I wish Beck weren’t so eccentric*. He’s got an amazing flair for engaging presentations. Can you imagine the good he could do if he used his blackboard skillz to teach the scientific method?

    *I was trying to think of a softer word for “crazy” that didn’t have astronomical implications. And I failed. “Loony”? Nope. “Spaced out”? Nope. Some allusion to being from another planet is obviously out. Jeez, no wonder hollywood is so keen on mad scientists :P
    ____________________
    Also @ Messier: Eta Carinae? Isn’t that a GRB candidate? I know the gas lobes its’ shot out would seem to indicate that a pole isn’t aimed at us, but are we absolutely, 100% sure? To 5 decimal places? Because that’s a hell of a gun to be staring down the barrel of…

  102. Joseph G

    @99 CB: No, that’d just be silly. Instead, we’re going to use as our source of information a bunch of modern losers who ignorantly misinterpreted the beliefs of those medieval losers who thought that our Sun required the blood of human sacrifices to rise.
    That’s obviously much better. =D

    Bahaha. Too true.

    @101 LoboLoco: Why pseudo-science if the actual science is so amazing?
    Absolutely! Truth isn’t just stranger then fiction, it’s also bigger, faster, slower, more beautiful and more terrifying then anything we can make up.

  103. I just spent an hour or so over the last day reading your stuff. I was wandering around websites to see what kind of stuff people have posted about astronomy and I read through some of your stuff. Pretty funny… Have you ever read the bestpageintheuniverse guy? Your’s reminds me of his in some ways. good stuff.

  104. Chief

    It better not explode in 2012, the Mayan doomsayers would never shut up.

    I agree with Messier Tidy Upper, as long as we are wishing for an event to happen, lets pick the best one. Although I live in Canada, I wish I had his view point for some of the more interesting astronomical artifacts and possible events that will happen (hopefully in our lifetimes).

  105. Ädamas

    why does google reader not show the whole article.

  106. Messier Tidy Upper

    Here’s more interesting links on supernovas and possible risks – and in this case (T Pyxidis) :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2010/01/07/no-a-nearby-supernova-wont-wipe-us-out/

    Even the 2012 baloney. :-)

    T Pyxidis with its recurrent novae history seems a much likelier bet for nearest and worst “white dwarf” (Type Ia) supernovae candidate to me.

    Then there’s another really obscure but interesting white dwarf SN candidate “named” V445 Puppis which the BA discussed here :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2009/11/17/astronomers-spot-ticking-supernova-time-bomb/

    & finally, last link for now I promise (hope these are interesting and useful for folks, more links is good right?) there’s this massive type II supernova candidate :

    http://www.badastronomy.com/info/logo.html

    (Yes, that’s the right link – or at least I hope it is!)

    “Named” Sher 25 which, I gather, is one of the BA’s faves – & which is fairly reminiscent of the last major supernova brightly visible here on Earth back in 1987 which was also a (surprise!) *blue* supergiant precursor star rather than the expected red variety supergiant. :-)

  107. Messier Tidy Upper

    @104. Joseph G :

    @98 Messier Tidy Upper: Phil reccomended a book by Beck? As in Glenn Beck? As in, the worst thing to happen to chalk since eraser fights? *head asplodes*

    Yup. I’ve linked to it & its awaiting moderation now – its funny and also kind of sad at the same time. :-)

    Also @ Messier: Eta Carinae? Isn’t that a GRB candidate? I know the gas lobes its’ shot out would seem to indicate that a pole isn’t aimed at us, but are we absolutely, 100% sure? To 5 decimal places? Because that’s a hell of a gun to be staring down the barrel of…

    Er … yes. The BA actually used it in his chapter on Gamma Ray burst as Death from the Skies if I recall right. (Got a copy but its not currently accessible.) Or was it just supernova?

    That is a bit of a worry although I think we’d have to be *very* unlucky indeed to be affected – Eta Carinae is 7,500 light years away or so.

    100. Jim Starluck : Okay, so there’s no risk from a possible supernova. But what if you say his name three times?

    “Betelgeux, Alpha Orionis, 58 Ori!” There I’ve said the name thrice!

    I’ve tried saying that many times before incl. the (correct?) Betelguese, Betelgeux, Betelgeuse way – & nothing ever happens! ;-)

    @99. CB : Actually, it’s sort of worse I reckon though Your Mileage May Vary, natch.

    In this day and age, with all that’s known for people to still be so .. dumb. Sigh. :-(

  108. Joseph G

    @Messier Tidy Upper: Er … yes. The BA actually used it in his chapter on Gamma Ray burst as Death from the Skies if I recall right.
    I know, I’m re-reading it right now (well, not NOW now, but yesterday), but he didn’t really get into exactly how astronomers are positive that gas lobes = rotational pole orientation, absolutely. Pulsars come to mind (their magnetic poles and rotational poles being substantially different).

    Don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying we should start repenting for our sins just yet, I’m just saying it’d be comforting for us lay-peeps to see some more detail on this point. Moar! ;)

  109. amphiox

    didn’t Rabbi Jesus say something like : “NO man shall know the hour!”

    Doesn’t say anything about the date. You just won’t know what the precise hour will be….

  110. Scott Hedrick

    Frankly, there’s a much bigger calamity that would happen with Betelgeuse just going supernova as opposed to it happening on some date in 2012.

    Everyone’s favourite mythological hunter would lose his shoulder.
    ————————————–
    At Orion’s age, he ought to slow down a bit and take his Geritol. I’m only a tiny fraction of his age and my shoulder bugs me all the time.

  111. Frank

    I’m just waiting for every natural disaster in the year 2012 to be labeled as “proof” of the “Mayan Prophecy” being true. Seriously its going to be OMG THAT EARTHQUAKE IS PROOF! OMG THAT TSUNAMI IS PROOF. Even though that stuff happens almost every year.

  112. PeteC

    Well, well!

    This article is reprinted on CBS news (credited to Discover). Phil makes a major news network! :)

    It’s currently linked on the front page, too :)

  113. Zhorik

    I confess to the regular browse of the Huffington Post. But after yet another over the top Anti-Science post I swear that vice off forever more. Phil, where are you browsing these days as an alternative?

  114. JB of Brisbane

    @bigdaddyhen#72 – it takes light reflected off the moon about 1.2 seconds to reach us on Earth. All the space-based scopes are closer than the moon, meaning that assuming a space-based scope was on the same side of Earth as the supernova, it would have a sighting advantage of less than a second – and then it would have to process and transmit the image to someone on Earth, by which time a ground-based scope would have picked it up.

  115. truthspeaker

    @ #72:

    Orbiting telescopes would see it a fraction of a second before observers on the earth, but the transmissions those telescopes send to earth travel at the speed of light, so the pictures from the telescopes could not arrive any earlier than the light from the supernova itself.

  116. Mark Hansen

    Loboloco @ 105,
    …Why pseudo-science if the actual science is so amazing?…
    I think that, unfortunately, the reason is real science takes learning, time and discipline. Pseudo-science is just so much more accessible and can be made to sound just as impressive. It’s probably symptomatic of the get-rich-quick, instant-gratification society. Or that’s my take on it; your own views may differ.

  117. TVcameraman

    Darn… I just bought tickets to the end of the world… front row seats..!! LOL Pseudo-science seems to be taking over because of the lack of interest in the world around us and how things work and the lack of faith/interest in what a lot of professionals are teaching and saying.
    As for me, I would love to see it during my lifetime. One of the great shows put on by Mother Nature herself. As for the end of the world, I am more concerned about some nut-ball starting a man made end…

  118. Dionigi

    Don’t you lot realise that the Mayans were told by aliens who travel faster than light. You earthlings just haven’t got round to seeing the flash yet. I’ve already booked my holiday in the opposite direction maybe I will come back when it has died down to see how my real estate is doing.

  119. Pete Jackson

    The odds against having a supernova as nearby as Betelgeuse are normally rather remote. Consider our Milky Way galaxy as a disk 80,000 light years in diameter, and where a supernova goes off once every 50 years or so. The chance that one of those supernova occurring within 1000 light years of us is roughly 1/(80*80) or 1/6400.
    Hence a supernova close to us than 1000 light years will go off once every 50 * 6400 or once every 320,000 years! Betelgeuse may indeed become the next supernova, but count on waiting 100,000 years or more to really have a chance to see it go off!

    @74 Zucchi – Betelgeuse’s distance is rather uncertain because of it’s brightness and fuzziness makes precision measurements difficult. But it’s certainly closer than 1000 light years. Wikipedia gives 643 +/- 146 light years.

  120. waz

    Oh god – is there some way you can not have n e w s dot com dot a u in text? That site is the epitome of whats wrong with journalism and (as an aussie) its a national disgrace. Anything you can do to promote it less (bad publicity is still publicity after all) is welcome…

  121. Great post, Plait!
    One of the things that bedazzles me in this topic is… grammar.
    I mean, BigB being 600ly away, we know today it has not gone off 600 years ago.
    So, what you are saying is that the odds it will have been gone off in the rest of the year… or rather it will go, only it has gone…

    Rats, I never have my copy of Dr. Dan Streetmentioner’s Book of 1,001 Tense Fomations handy whan I need it!

  122. Jason

    It could blow up tomorrow, it could be a million years. However, if it were to be tomorrow, that would be awesome, I have to say.

    If it goes, the first thing I want to see is Phil’s entry.

    The second thing I want to see? The reaction of the Westboro Baptist Church. Think about the signs: “GOD HATES RED SUPERGIANT STARS!”

  123. Kyle Doane

    Great post as always. It is amazing what the news gets wrong either unintentionally or to fit the spin of the story. I think NEWS = Not Exactly What’s Said.

    I was recently interviewed by the local FOX TV station about the “New 13th Constellation”. What they posted was: “What gets me is not the addition of a 13th Astrological sign, but that people’s signs have been off” and then they cut to people in a coffee shop reading their horoscope.

    They left off the rest of my quote, “…for hundreds of years and nobody in the public seemed to notice until yesterday.”

    I dodged one interview about the “Second Sun going around the Earth,” but will probably be asked for a quote on this as well. Makes me a little frightened what they will have me say.

  124. sophia8

    Paul@2: Hopefully all the antiscientists will go nuts and drink their own Kool Aid, in the original meaning of the phrase.
    Does anybody else feel feel uncomfortable at reading such gleeful calls for certain people to commit suicide? I know it’s only the internet and all, but suicide is not really a subject to toss around unthinkingly. IMO, of course.
    Besides which, as the original Kool Aid incident (and others) show, mass-suicide cultists hardly ever off just themselves – they take children and other innocents with them as well.

    OK, we now take you back to your scheduled levity…..

  125. Hans

    Uh-Oh.

    You guys are saying Beetlejuice far too often.

  126. @ 129:

    The second thing I want to see? The reaction of the Westboro Baptist Church. Think about the signs: “GOD HATES RED SUPERGIANT STARS!”

    “GOD HATES FLAMING SUPERGIANT STARS!”

    Fixed that for you.

  127. T. Miller

    Although I know the chances of it happening are slim, I would love to have a close supernova go off sometime in my life. That would be an amazing thing to experience.

  128. JAK

    @ 81

    Any news source of any political tilt and let’s face it, they all have theirs just as we all have ours, that filters their science reporting through a political sieve is gonna have a lot of material worthy of The Onion without even trying. It won’t matter whether the tilt is left, right, center, up, down, or just plain warped and weird.

    Having said all that, I would love to be around to see the sight, though my joints would be a little achy by then most likely, especially at night

  129. Andy

    Scottynuke – “Well, if Betelgeuse DOES go supernova next year, we won’t know about it until about 2612 anway, so…”

    I was thinking the same thing, but they probably mean that the star might have already gone super nova 600 years ago but there is no way of knowing because we have to wait for the light to get here.

    So when they say “The star will go supernova next year” (even though it probably wont) they mean “The light from the star which has gone super nova 600years ago will hit us next year”

  130. AstroLite

    Phil, here’s an an article that quotes you (good), but still have some fact wrong:

    http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2011/01/21/betelgeuse-explode-scientists-say/

    This is a sentence on the second paragraph: “While the second biggest star in the universe is strangely losing mass …”. Betelgeuse is not even the top 3 biggest star in our galaxy let alone the whole universe. I’m pretty sure it’s smaller than VY Canis Majoris, VV Cephei A and Mu Cephei.

  131. Mauro

    Well, very interesting subject in view of the absurd 2012 predicted events. But how does science know that Betelgeuse is ready to go supernova? Surely, it is already way into the main sequence development and may have already went supernova. In that case someone from this generation or from any other shortly subsequent, may watch Betelgeuse explosion.

  132. B Weber

    Once I learned that Betelgeuse was big enough to go supernova, I dreamed of seeing it go. I thought, all it had to do was go off 600-700 years before I was born, and I’ll see it go. And then I read that the Chinese recorded it as yellow around the 1st century BC, but Ptolemy recorded it as red around 150 AD. The obvious theory is that is turned red somewhere between that time. This means it is extremely unlikely to go off in the next…very very long time.

  133. steve star

    How long would this supernova be visible if it did happen? A few seconds? A few minutes? Just curious.

  134. Joseph G

    Messier Tidy Upper with the useful links, as usual :)

  135. zerorest

    Betelguese may have already exploded 500 years ago and we won’t see it for 100 more years.

  136. Chip

    And in the extremely unlikely possibility that Betelgeuse explodes in 2012 as seen from Earth, the hucksters and their believers will shout “I told you so” – however, if they have no proof of something happening and then it happens, that doesn’t mean that their claims are true. It means that a coincidence occurred between their unsubstantiated prediction based on belief and the actual occurrence in Nature. A Betelgeuse nova may reinforce their belief systems but it doesn’t prove that their beliefs are in any way real or true.

  137. Alex

    Betelgeuse may or may not blow for thousands of years. But something could happen in 2012, the US government is building huge under ground shelters everywhere, It was on the Jesse Ventura show. They will be calling people to go to these shelters, but In case they they forget to call me I think I will build my own shelter in the Aquarius Mountains in Arizona, for the new age of Aquarius.

  138. santafedog

    What i wonder is if Betelguese will have polar jets and which direction those are pointing. As for it disappearing, it will become (rather slowly) another nebula like the one in the sword of orion and probably another nursery.

  139. Messier Tidy Upper

    @148. Joseph G : Thanks. My pleasure. :-)

    A-a-a-a-nd I’ve just noticed that the BA has already linked the T Pyxidis “No, a nearby supernova won’t wipe us out” post I linked at #112. D’oh! That was unobservant of me. :-( Oh well.

    @136. sophia8 :

    Paul@2: Hopefully all the antiscientists will go nuts and drink their own Kool Aid, in the original meaning of the phrase.
    Does anybody else feel feel uncomfortable at reading such gleeful calls for certain people to commit suicide? I know it’s only the internet and all, but suicide is not really a subject to toss around unthinkingly. IMO, of course.

    Agreed.

    Although, very minor nitpick here, the *original* meaning of the words “drinking the KoolAid” was just drinking Kool Aid ie. the soft drink on its own without the added poison which would be okay. It was only later after the Jonestown cult suicide (?) that the phrase picked up the additional nasty connotations. :-(

    @146. steve star Says:

    How long would this supernova be visible if it did happen? A few seconds? A few minutes? Just curious.

    At least several weeks and probably many months perhaps even a year or so although the brightness would decline over time. It would rise to a peak during which as Kaler noted (I quoted earlier & from the source @ # 104 here) the betelgeuxite supernova would be visible during daylight and then it would gradually fade as the supernova shell expanded creating the remnant nebula & the decay of the radioactive elements produced diminished.

    I suggest you google “supernovae lightcurves” and check out the histories of SN 1987 A and the Crab Supernova of 1054 for reasonably comparable examples. :-)

  140. Messier Tidy Upper

    I suggest you google “supernovae lightcurves” and check out the histories of SN 1987 A and the Crab Supernova of 1054 for reasonably comparable examples.

    Plus the brightest of all historically recorded supernovae (SN) :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SN_1006

    Bearing in mind that Betelgeuse is far closer than those – the supernova of 1006 was over one thousand light years away – over seven thousand actually – thus comparable to how an Eta Carinae SN may look!

    SN 1987 A :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SN_1987A

    was so far away it was in another galaxy entirely – the Large Magellanic Cloud at around 170,000 light-years – whilst the Crab Supernova :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SN_1054

    was located 6,300 light years from us.

    Betelguese, by contrast, is a mere five or six hundred light-years off and thus many times closer to us.

    Not enough to be dangerous, probably, but enough to be very spectacular and bright indeed. A Betelgeux supernova will be truly, verily, utterly awesome …but then I’d miss the star istelf once its gone. 8)

  141. sHx

    2012 catastrophe predictions are all nonsense. We know that catastrophe won’t befall us before 2050.

    Our best scientific minds have calculated that most of us will fry and drown sometime between 2050 and 2100 because of Anthropogenic Global Warming.

    2012 is too early for a scientifically calculated apocalypse and we ought to be skeptical of such nonsense.

  142. godfree

    Huffington Post eventually will have all of the credibility of The National Enquirer if they really try to be more accurate with their reporting.

  143. Gary Ansorge

    77. Dan I.

    Faux Snooze quoting Phil? Wow! Now, THAT’S a miracle,,,maybe the end times really are coming,,,

    Gary 7

  144. amphiox

    But something could happen in 2012

    Oh, something will happen in 2012. Something happens every year.

    As for end-of-the-world level disasters, there’s also a US presidential election in 2012. The Republicans might win.

  145. Just a bit of background for the non-Australians, news.com.au is News Limited, aka Murdoch aka Fox. News Limited and its various Australian newspapers are a running joke among the non-stupid of the Aussie population.

    Their mutilation of a perfectly straight forward science story is not exactly a shock.

  146. Our local newspaper just copy pastes their news without verifying anything. Doesn’t matter if they’re wrong later. The story has to get out now.

  147. Abe

    Could someone please explain the “cast a shadow” part?

  148. Mark Hansen

    Bright enough to enable you to cast a shadow; roughly equivalent to the sort of shadow you would cast by the light from a waxing crescent moon. That would be in a dark area – in the city, with all the light pollution, you probably wouldn’t see it.

  149. sHx

    I am sorry to report that the news has gone viral. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read it in MX Sydney (free daily tabloid, no online edition) a couple of hours ago. I just did a google search and the list of online media outlets that report the same false news goes on and on and on.

  150. Max

    Fools. Dont you see. The chrono-synclastic infundibulum is about to burst.

  151. Nigel Depledge

    The BA said:

    Yeah, that’s probably a mixed metaphor, or actually a simile. But you know what’s like a simile? A metaphor.

    I have to challenge this, Phil.

    Simile and metaphor are both literary tools, but they are distinct from one another.

    Simile likens one thing to another, indicating certain similar traits or properties. The clichéd example is “clouds like cotton wool”.

    Metaphor states that a thing is something that it actually isn’t, such as “cotton-wool clouds” or “kaleidascope [sp?] eyes”.

    I think what you were doing was mixing metaphor and simile.

  152. Nigel Depledge

    Goncalo Aguilar (3) said:

    It will actually cast a shadow?? Incredible! Will it hurt to stare at it with the naked eye?

    Well, Phil says it won’t be as bright as the full moon. Does it hurt your eyes to stare at the full moon?

  153. Zucchi

    @156 Messier Tidy Upper, I think you’re mistaken. I never heard the phrase “drinking the Kool-Aid” before the 1978 Jonestown mass suicide. (It was actually Flavor-Aid they drank, but that’s not important. Although I imagine this is one time the Kool-Aid people were unhappy their brand name had become so well-known as to be used generically.)

    The phrase (as a way of saying “uncritically accepting a belief system”) makes no sense without that association. I’m pretty sure that’s the origin.

    (I don’t think there’s any connection with Electric Kool-Aid.)

  154. Dunc

    Simply put: Talk about events happening when we see them, unless there’s a compelling reason to bring relativity into it.

    But then how will blog weenies demonstrate their amazing science smarts? They’ve totally learned that light takes time to travel, and they want to share this amazing insight with everyone on the internets, because it’s such a rare gem of specialist knowledge!

    Sorry kids, but when you’re trying to “correct” the professional scientist with facts you got off the back of a cereal packet, you just wind up looking dumb.

  155. amphiox

    Simile and metaphor are both literary tools, but they are distinct from one another.

    Actually that depends on how one interprets the definitions. Based on the definitions as I was taught them, similes are a type of metaphor, which is a more general term. (ie Similes are a nested clade within the larger clade of metaphors).

  156. Patrick

    If neutrino bombardment would suddenly turn minerals into gold, we would NOT all instantly become wealthy. Gold produced like that would be as common as dirt and would cease to have any value whatsoever. Gold is valued because it is rare, primarily. And because it’s useful and pretty, secondarily. But the monetary value drops to zero if/when you can just scoop it out of your back garden.

    You’d find you had an enormous pile of gold -and so would everyone else. Good luck selling any. It’s always risky to bet on any object valuable mainly because it’s rare. All it takes to wreck that system is a large amount of the item released, and suddenly the rarity is gone along with the value.

    Thankfully, this gold bonanza is unlikely to happen because we’re bombarded by neutrinos all the time and absolutely nothing happens. Even as I type this, countless billions of them are going right through my hands, the keyboard, my desk, my feet and indeed right through the floor. In the time it took to type the word ‘floor’ in the last sentence, the neutrinos passed all the way through me, through the earth itself, and beyond out into space. And not one bit of gold was made along the way. Neutrinos generally don’t interact with normal matter. Even if they turned things into gold -which they don’t- they practically never touch normal matter so they never DO a lot of anything. They just go, oblivious to the fact that any of us are here at all.

    So even if a thousand thousand suns go supernova and spew neutrinos at us, the soil will not turn into gold. Which is a good thing. You can’t eat gold. We need our soil to grow food.

  157. Jerry

    To Scottynuke: When they talk about a star like this going supernova they mean when we would detect it. If we see it next year for example, then it really happened some 600 years ago in this case. Everything we see in the heavens is in the past due to light travel time.

  158. Getheren Moon

    Just a technical question: does anyone know, or have a good guess, what burning stage Betelgeuse is in? If it’s in carbon burning, the claim is pure hogwash — carbon burning lasts for a very long time on human scales. If it’s silicon burning, then the claim has much more merit, as a massive star *flies* through the Si-burning phase.

  159. Getheren Moon

    Patrick: Not to mention the side issue: Even if neutrinos *could* transmute elements, why would they necessarily transmute them to *gold*? It seems just as credible (accepting the premise with a grain of salt one metre on a side) that they might transmute them to fun stuff like mercury, fluorine, potassium, or phosphorus.

  160. “The funny thing is, it would be so bright astronomers would have a hard time using their best equipment, which would get swamped with all that light.”

    Surely the equivalent of the photographer’s grey filter could be put into the optical path?!

  161. adi

    To all those that say if it does explode in 2012 we wont see it for another 600 years….it might have already exploded 599 years ago but we wont see the light till next year..

  162. GWood

    Something that always amazes me about the myth believers and doom sayers is their lack of understanding of just how unimaginably vast our universe is. Vast and wonderous. As a wise man once said…”our universe is not just stranger than we imagine but stranger than we CAN imagine. Keep looking up guys. Some will see wonders, others will see monsters.

  163. Graeme Bird

    “Something that always amazes me about the myth believers and doom sayers is their lack of understanding of just how unimaginably vast our universe is.”

    The visible universe is not nearly as vast as you imagine it to be. The speed of the propagation of gravity proves that every proton in any galaxy is connected to every other. Also its a pretty readily supportable fact that extreme natural events on earth are the result of space weather. You want to get up to speed on matters. Further to that the history of extinction events is readily available at your fingertips. You need to think a great deal harder about this matter.

  164. Graeme Bird

    Becoming more savvy about the way the galaxy works, begins with the realisation that Phil Plait isn’t any sort of scientist at all. Nor is anyone who fell for the big bang theory.

  165. Bernie

    When astronomers say `the star will explode tomorrow` they dont mean it will explode and we`ll see it in 600 years because there is no way to know when or even if it has already exploded.

    They speak about these things in reference to our time frame because it doesnt make any sense to talk about it any other way.

  166. ema zee

    So what happens if it goes nova during the Northern Hemisphere summer? (50% chance?)

    Would it be bright enough to see during the daytime?

    or would it go “poof” and we wouldn’t even know about it until the return of winter?

    What technical problems and solutions would this present?

  167. Copisetic

    Read David Cohen’s book, The Adamic language and calendar: The true Bible Code.
    Read the last chapter about Betelguese.
    If he is right, all the scientists will be eating crow for a long time.
    The odds of him calling this event would be as many stars there are out there

  168. actualy guys , i don’t understand why nobody remember the fact that even betelgeuse explodes, we should wait at least 600 years to see that explosion

  169. matt

    The Huffington Post like most MSM outlets is a joke. Its a sad sad sad joke of mistakes, lies and propaganda on a daily basis…yet all the “smart” people only make fun of FOX news…(and I’m not defending FOX news, they’re also a joke).

  170. chandi prasad

    sir,
    is this right that the redgaint star will converted in to supernova in the end of 2011 and it will emmit light many times more than sun and then there will be no diffrence between in the day and night for few days??? please sir reply me on my email as soon as possible please i requesting you.
    thank you.

  171. wiki

    this star Betelgeuse has went supernova due to the pinkish color in the past few few days I predict it will go supernova by new years eve but due to its distance the pinkish color actually occured a few hundred years ago so did the super nova depending on the strength of it might increase global warming and completely mess up the ecosystem where I live it will be like summer and people might be going the beach at night in winter everything will go crazy all I want is warm weather even though I live in new york I like equatorial climate

  172. Laurel

    About a decade ago a friend and I tried to figure out if Betelgeuse exploding would be dangerous, but we didn’t have enough data to do it. Thanks for finally settling the argument!

  173. Chris

    I wish more people were educated in astronomy so that they could understand how ridiculous hoaxes like this are. I mean, really. This is bigger than that one hoax that Mars would be as big as the moon. P.S. I hope the residents of the moons of Betelgeuse 3 are prepared. XD

  174. Heather

    Maybe betelgeuse did go supernova already. When you look at the star in the sky your looking in the past. The light waves for the explosion has not reached our visual field yet

  175. Mike

    Heather is right. If Betelgeuse had gone supernova in 1372, we would just be finding out now…

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