Betelgeuse followup

By Phil Plait | January 24, 2011 2:00 pm

It’s been a couple of days since the foofooraw involving Betelegeuse, 2012, and media laziness took place. As you may recall, a site in Australia made some dubious connections between 2012 and the red supergiant star Betelgeuse exploding, which you may imagine I took a fairly dim view on. As bad as that was, it got worse when The Huffington Post weighed in, adding their own nonsense to the story, misattributing parts of the story and making even more faulty connections to 2012.

The story went viral rapidly. Other media venues quickly picked up on it, furthering the nonsense without doing any independent investigation of it. Happily, not everyone got it wrong; I’ll note that the first venue that apparently got it right was Fox News, who linked to an earlier article I wrote about Betelgeuse.

I was also contacted by Jesse Emspak from International Business Times, who asked me specific questions about it and wrote a very well-written and factually accurate article about all this, doing something that made my heart sing: not just presenting the real science we could get out of a Betelgeuse supernova, but making that the focus of the article! As it should be. Kudos to him and IBT.

Stories like 2012 and nearby supernovae are sexy, easy to sell, and get eyeballs on a webpage. It’s the devil’s bargain to write about them even on a skeptical astronomy blog; it can reinforce bad science in people’s minds, or it might put a spotlight on something that could otherwise wither and die on its own (which is why I didn’t write about this story until HuffPo posted it). It’s also amazing to me how some media — some actual, mainstream news sources — didn’t do any real fact-checking before putting up links to HuffPo. It once again reinforces what I learned long ago: keep a very skeptical frame of mind when reading or listening to the news. If they can mess up something as simple as this, then what else are they getting wrong?

Comments (67)

Links to this Post

  1. All the Things That Happened Today « Gerry Canavan | January 24, 2011
  1. Laure

    as of today foofooraw is my new favorite word !!!

  2. Dean

    “If they can mess up something as simple as this, then what else are they getting wrong?”

    I learned in my few times of dealing with the media in my job as a meteorologist, that the media just flat out gets it wrong, especially if they can just put in a canned phrase like ‘thunderstorms happen when cold air collides with warm air’.

    While true, they just don’t get the subtleties when it’s WRONG.

    Then again, it’s probably a lot like saying that you can’t get to other stars because what counts is acceleration. ;-P

  3. Betelgeuse exploding? Gosh, I hope Michael Keaton is ok.

  4. Teknowaffle

    The most glaring error (aside from the wild speculation) in every article I read was referring to Betelgeuse as being in the “Orion Nebula”

    IT IS NOT IN THE ORION NEBULA!!!

    GRRR

    It is in the constellation Orion.

  5. Amy J

    One of the articles that I read last week (only semi-sensational) suggested that the star could potentially create a black hole, which would be cool. Is that true, or just part of the hype?

  6. Dennis

    Holy crap.
    As I’m reading this, a teaser for tomorrow’s local morning news comes on, and the anchor says,
    “It sounds like something out of Star Wars. Could we soon see two suns? Some science journals say so.”
    :facepalm:

    Now I feel like I have to watch the morning news to find out how they’re going to get themselves out of that outright lie.
    I guess the teaser worked…

    I wanted to shout at my TV, “NO SCIENCE JOURNAL EVER SAID ANYTHING LIKE THAT, YOU JACKASS!”

    Shameless.

  7. Dean

    Here’s another one.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/space/8276756/Alien-life-deemed-impossible-by-analysis-of-500-planets.html

    I assume that Howard Smith has been misquoted, because this is a classic Fark where the headline doesn’t have anything to do with what is said in the piece.

    All Howard Smith seems to be saying is that of the planets we’ve found, none would support life. Which I’d agree with.

    But saying that life is ‘impossible’ based on the analysis of worlds that are found by techniques that wouldn’t find life-bearing worlds, is simply wrong.

    Especially given that Kepler is likely to discover several worlds that could support life in the next 2 years.

  8. Stan Taylor

    I wrote about Beetlejuice in the Jan 20/11 edition of the Uxbridge COSMOS, p. 6 under my monthly article “Extra-Terrestrial Tidbits”. When I am not writing/publishing articles, I give a hands-on, half-day science workshop to Grade 6 students called “Celestial Sleuths.” Invariably the question about 2012 comes up. It is scary to think the movies have such a strong and sometimes negative affect on our young viewers. I do my little bit to straighten students out about bad astronomy and Hollywood myths.

  9. breadbox

    No, but some journal did say that, and they can’t tell the difference.

  10. Missy

    Thanks. I had a friend tell me it was going to be as bright as the sun for a few days and I told her that had to be BS. She didn’t believe me :P

  11. Oli

    Never knew Betelgeuse was the second largest star in the universe ._.

  12. Congratulations Phil. In a weird way, your early blog jousting with Hoagland, McCanney et al. helped create the two key ingredients for you becoming a ‘go-to’ guy on a story like this: credibility and visibility. Both are essential. Reading the original ‘Cosmos’ book by Carl Sagan last night, I was reminded in his introduction that the entire PBS series was instigated by Sagan’s frustration that the US news media ignored the entire Viking mission to Mars. So Sagan got so pissed that he created Cosmos, the series. It took Sagan being royally pissed at the media for him to create a seminal event in public science media. In your own personal way, you are doing the same. And it is appreciated.

  13. Missy:

    I had a friend tell me it was going to be as bright as the sun for a few days and I told her that had to be BS. She didn’t believe me

    Well, of course it’s going to be brighter than the Sun. I would expect that all supernovae are.

    Now, what will the apparent brightness be, from the Earth’s vantage point? Well, that’s another story entirely. :-)

    But, if you’re 1AU from Betelgeuse at the time, anybody not wearing 2 million sunblock is gonna have a real bad day.

  14. Dennis

    I just sent an email to the station saying what I said in all caps above (minus the jackass part), including links to Phil’s 3 recent blog entries on the topic.

    Now I have to watch the 4am – 7am news cast to see what they say.
    Thank the FSM for DVRs!

  15. Woof

    The more general rule is: If you have personal knowledge of something in a news story, you’ll notice that they get it wrong. Amazing, innit, that they get everything else right?

  16. Jess Tauber

    Ken, sunblock won’t help. Even if you manage to keep out all the photons, the neutrinos alone will fry your atomic nuclei.

  17. Thopter

    I couldn’t believe it when I found a Time article online about Betelgeuse in which the author said “coincidentally, the Mayan calendar predicted Armageddon in 2012.” Journalistic standards really are slipping.

  18. Keith Bowden

    @Ken B – nice quote!

  19. Dave

    Wow
    I just wasted a half hour by googleing Betelgeuse 2012. Foofooraw is right. I didn’t continue college, but I like to think I know enough that I can spot the obvious crackpot phrases in comments. Some were so nonsensical that I found myself rereading them and still laughing.
    The internet can be a dangerous outlet for misinformation. Always look for more information when something raises your eyebrows.
    Dave

  20. DaVy

    Hi,

    Nobody checks its sources. Three weeks ago a group of young tv makers launcht some gossip about the craziest things to some paper and without any checking they publicist it.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2fR1Is8rJI&feature=related

  21. Joe S

    Phil, your linked Fox News Story has 5 mistakes in the first two paragraphs.

    They might have gotten it “righter” than the rest, but (out of character) they’re far from right.

  22. Sam H

    Teknowaffle: Wow. Amazing what media can do these days, when they fail just getting their locations right by 7,010,000,000,000,000 km. :roll:

    Anyway, it seems that the possibility of a companion star hiding in the star’s atmosphere has been ruled out, but what do you think of the possibility of planets that formed earlier in the star’s history? I can’t get any concise info on Betelgeuse’s metallicity, but even then it doesn’t exactly tell what the star was like when it was in the main sequence. If it were to have any terrestrial planets (unlikely, it seems), imagine what that sky would look like…

    I really hope that Gene Roddenberry was right about star travel. :)

  23. PeteC

    Actually, some of the mainstream media got it very right.

    There was this article on CBS news that was pretty good, here:

    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/01/21/tech/main7269888.shtml?tag=contentMain;contentBody

    Some guy called Phil Plait, I believe … :)

  24. Michael Swanson

    For the briefest moment, I thought you wrote:

    “…the Huffington Post weighed in…masturbating parts of the story…”

    Immature, yes, but strangely appropriate.

  25. KEA

    2 things:
    1) it’s foofaraw, not foofooraw, and…
    2) it wasn’t the Huffington Post that weighed in but someone on HuffPo. I couldn’t find the post you referred to. A quick search there came up with a debunking of the whole thing, just as you did. ALL kinds of people post at HuffPo – from idiots to geniuses and I don’t think you should denigrate the site for the idiocy of one author.

  26. Anthony

    Phil:

    Not sure if you already noticed this, but apparently, Huffington Post added an update:

    “UPDATE II: In a follow-up piece on news.com.au, Dr. Carter stressed that there is no way of knowing when the star may go supernova. U.S. astronomer Phil Plait added, “Betelgeuse might go up tonight, or it might not be for 100,000 years. We’re just not sure.””

  27. The missing full stop after “how they work” is kind of amusing.

    a close look at how supernovae evolve and the physics that govern how they work Phil Plait

    Yeah, how DO supernovae work Phil Plait?

  28. Nate

    What’s crazy, and correct me if I’m wrong, is that it’s safe to say that Betelgeuse has already gone supernova – the light just hasn’t reached us yet.

    Something so major and dramatic has occurred in our galaxy yet we have to wait to see it. It’s like your parents buying you a new car when you’re 14…

  29. Hevach

    Nate: It’s not really safe to say it already has. The highest estimate for its distance I can find is only 1300 light years, and just pulling from Phil’s own quotes, “[it] might go up tonight, or it might not be for 100,000 years.” Assuming both are equally likely, chances are good the star hasn’t gone up yet.

    An interesting offshoot of this Betelgeuse craze is some of the new numerology being done around it. One of the funnier posts I read had some crazy explanation as to why Betelgeuse already went supernova in either 1372 with the rise of a specific Aztec king or 1582 when Pope Gregory instituted the Gregorian calendar (it possibly went supernova both years, but no matter how hard I hit myself on the head I couldn’t make sense of the reasoning), and an even crazier explanation as to how both events tie into the Mayan Calendar in 2012.

  30. Snowshoe the Canuck

    Just to be on the safe side, maybe we should ask the pope not to do any more calendar changes, just in case he does something that makes our star go supernova.

    Because you never know, and experts don’t have all the answers.

    Is numerology the technical name for maths?

  31. Chris

    Fox News got something right? Now I know the world is coming to an end!

  32. KC

    Amy J: A star like Betelgeuse is probably a smidge too ‘underweight’ to form a black hole.

  33. Monkey

    Dennis……dennis…..update, please! Im curious to see what (if anything) they did to respond and in what kind of time frame they did so.

    I think Sagan said it best when he quipped: “outrageous errors require outrageous apologies” or something like that, I believe :)

  34. Don

    You might think the media would forget all about 2012 sometime in January of 2013. But then there’ll be the inevitable headline “Why Scientists Got It Wrong In 2012″.

  35. Messier Tidy Upper

    @14. Ken B Says:

    Well, of course it’s going to be brighter than the Sun. I would expect that all supernovae are.

    Plus red supergiants like Betelgeuse are *already* far brighter than our yellow dwarf Sun – as are mere red giants, blue supergiants, giants and sub-giants, Sirian Type A stars, Procyonese type F stars, et cetera. Even some more massive and /or older G type yellow dwarfs such as Alpha Centauri can outshine our Sun. ;-)

    Nicely observed.

    Now, what will the apparent brightness be, from the Earth’s vantage point? Well, that’s another story entirely. But, if you’re 1AU from Betelgeuse at the time, anybody not wearing 2 million sunblock is gonna have a real bad day.

    Nice ‘Terminator II’ reference there! ;-)

    I’ll just note if your just 1 AU from Betelgeux now – or *before* its gone supernova assuming that’s not the same thing – you’ll *still* need that 2 million sunblock to avoid frying and whatever you’re standing on better be durn heat-resistent! ;-)

    The luminosity of Betelgeux (bolometric, ie. incl. infrared, UV, X-rays etc ..) is well, uncertain but very, *gargantuanly* high :

    At a compromise distance of 570 light years, and allowing for a lot of infrared radiation and for absorption of light by circumstellar dust, the luminosity [of betelgeuse] comes in at 85,000 times that of the Sun, considerably more than comes out of Antares. At the larger distance, luminosity boosts up to 105,000 Suns. From these and the temperature, we derive respective radii of 3.1 and 3.4 Astronomical Units, more than double the size of the Martian orbit.

    Also note that 1 AU from the centre of Betelgeux puts you inside the stars tenous red-hot-vacuum-like outer atmosphere – 1 AU from its pulsating surface will still be far too close for comfort. ;-)

    @12. Oli : Never knew Betelgeuse was the second largest star in the universe.

    Its not. The red supergiant VV Cephei, extends an awe-inspiring if somewhat poorly determined and variable 275,000 to 575,000 solar diameters or 85 % of the way to Saturn in our Solar system terms! (Kaler, 2002 & 2009.) Its constellation mate, the Garnet Star another rare red supergiant is likewise is colossal beyond fathoming and its surface would extend to midway between Jupiter and Saturn if it replaced our Sun. (Kaler, Garnet Star page, to be linked later.) There are a handful of other known examples too with the largest of all stars presently believed to be VY Canis Majoris. Note that there are uncertainties and large error bars here based on the accuracy of distance – & hence size – estimates and always the possibility that a new stellar size champion will be found! :-)

  36. Messier Tidy Upper

    See :

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

    for my source and more about the Garnet Star (Mu Cephei)

    See :

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

    For Wikipedia’s largest stars listing.

    Plus see :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2011/01/17/how-deep-the-universe/#comment-352962

    For a comment – #90, me at January 17th, 2011 at 7:25 pm on the How deep the Universe thread via this blog – which provides a link to a marvellous Youtube clip giving an idea of the scale of various objects from ice dwarf worlds to stars to galaxies and beyond. Scroll up to comment #86 there for another awesome scale one too. :-)

  37. Messier Tidy Upper

    As for the media, yeah, they’re appalling. Check and make sure before accepting anything you hear on TV or online or the media generally folks. Multiple sources and ones you can usually trust (like this blog or Kaler’s or well, we all have our favourites right!?) are good. But even then be cautious.

    The media love sensationalising, beating-up and exxagerating things – it sells more papers and raises TV ratings. Getting facts right and accurately assessing things in their proper perspective is NOT their priority. The media cannot be relied on or trusted.

    Experience has taught me that.

    Personally, the worst astronomy article I remember seeing was a newspaper one where they claimed “*astrologers* had discovered a new pulsars. Aaaarrrrrgggggghhhh!!! :-(

  38. Maybe the Mayans know that the light from exploding Betelgeuse will reach Earth in 2012 because they are the ones who blew it up 700 years ago…

  39. Hevach

    @31. Snowshoe the Canuck, “Is numerology the technical name for maths?”

    It’s a broad term for pseudomath that tries to build meaning from otherwise arbitrary numbers. There’s a lot of different ways its done, like assigning arbitrary qualities to digits (some astrologers do this, attaching each digit to a celestial body), assigning numeric value to letters (google Bill Clinton 666 or Obama 666 for simple examples of this method, google a few other presidents to see just how elaborate the math gets trying to pull 666 out of a president’s name), or just good old fashioned random calculations on arbitrary values (the way Homer Simpson predicted the apocalypse).

  40. Bobby

    I think there’s journalism like that all over the world. Last year the probably most prominent TV station here (Bulgaria) announced the discovery of alien life. Twice. Once on Titan and once a week after the Arsenic discovery.
    The Betelgeuse story hasn’t gotten any air time yet, but I’ve still had to explain to a few people why it’s not the end of the world and why it would be cool if it went supernova.

  41. #39 MTU:

    “Personally, the worst astronomy article I remember seeing was a newspaper one where they claimed “*astrologers* had discovered a new pulsars. Aaaarrrrrgggggghhhh!!!”

    In the UK, we get that sort of stupid mistake with monotonous regularity. Years ago, the local council in my home area built a public observatory, working closely with our local astronomical society. The opening ceremony was performed by Prof. Sir Arnold Wolfendale, who was then Astronomer Royal.
    When the retards of our local paper reported this, they referred to our society as “Cleveland and Darlington Astrological Society, and Sir Arnold as “the Astrologer Royal”!!!!!!!
    Their phone never stopped ringing the next day…

  42. Greg

    It’s disappointing that even the correct articles aren’t mentioning that even if the star exploded in 2012, we wouldn’t see it here for another 600 years.

  43. Dennis

    @Monkey and anyone else who’s interested.
    Update on my previous comments:
    Watched the entire morning newscast, and no mention of Betelgeuse, two suns, Star Wars, or 2012.

    I’m a bit pissed off that after they teased the story, and got me to watch the entire 2 hour morning newscast, they never mentioned it.
    But at least they didn’t report a bunch of lies and misinformation.

    btw: this was channel 7, whdh, NBC in Boston.

  44. Mel Anderson

    If I recall correctly, once the silicon layer starts fusing into nickel, the star has only about 5 days to supernova (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Type_II_supernova). The previous reaction – oxygen to silicon – takes 0.3 years. My question is this: is there any way of detecting oxygen or silicon from the spectrum to give an idea that a supernova is imminent?

    It may well have gone nova already, and its light may be travelling towards us even now.

    This all assumes a mass of >10 solar masses, and therefore a Type II supernova, but I don’t think that’s too contentious.

  45. Autumn

    I would be ecstatic if I got to see a nearby supernova in my lifetime. But the information presented by the mainstream media has been uniformly awful, and I’m sick of people tying everything into this 2012 bull. (I’ll admit I’ve used the whole 2012 thing in certain supernatural/conspiracy games, but this is where it belongs: in the realm of fiction. I’m far more concerned with the next Presidential election than the End Of All Things. …then again, if somehow Sarah Palin were to be elected…)

  46. Nigel Depledge

    @ Neil Haggath (43) –
    That’s not the one near Winyard, is it?

  47. I was looking over next year’s calendar when I accidentally spilled some coffee. Then I noticed that the coffee stain on 22-Dec-2012 looked just like the virgin Mary! It’s a sign that the world won’t end on the 21st! The Mayans were wrong!

    Wait a second… It’s not Mary, it’s Jesus. It’s a sign that we’ll all meet him then because the Earth is going to be destroyed on the 21st! The Mayans were right!

    Hold on, hold on… Now it looks like Phil Plait. WTF does that mean now?

    I’ll be right back… My toast is ready.

    :-)

  48. flip

    Speaking as someone who did online news writing for a bit: I’m not surprised it went viral so quick. Writers and editors don’t have the time or money to investigate and write as much as they used to, so many of them ‘harvest’ news from other sites. It’s recycled news mainly because it’s easier and cheaper to scan and link to other news items than to write them yourself. (Especially when it’s not scooped news, so much as media release rehashing or some online meme) To fact check something that is literally harvested by a bot is to severely misunderstand the ease at which harvesting news can be done and how little people take the time to read whether or not it’s relevant and/or journalistic. If it’s on another newspaper’s site, it’s assumed to be factually correct… Consider also that a lot of newspapers are run by the same companies… and you get repeated news all over the place.

    I find it ironic that Fox, the parent company of News.com.au (the ‘paper’ that started this), got it more right than the tabloid that originated the story.

  49. flip:

    Writers and editors don’t have the time or money to investigate and write as much as they used to, so many of them ‘harvest’ news from other sites. It’s recycled news mainly because it’s easier and cheaper to scan and link to other news items than to write them yourself.

    Perhaps “Desk Set” should be required viewing for such people?

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0050307/

  50. flip

    Ken B, #51

    Never seen the movie myself.

    But it depends. The way I wrote ‘news’ – and here it must be pointed out that it was arts news, not science – there was the regular harvest once a day, with a bare glance at the item to see if it was appropriate. Then the rest of the day was writing up actual items, but short ones, with a quick browse for background info; or feature items, which were researched over a couple of months.

    I’m not suggesting it’s all automated: just pointing out that it’s common practice to cast a net for other news items on other sites. Especially if those other sites happen to be sisters of your parent company. The more people that see your ‘original’ content, the better, so it ends up appearing everywhere. Double the content for half the price.

    I will also add that this sort of thing I’ve been employed to do, for pay, a number of times now. So it’s certainly not replacing human input. Someone still needs to make sure editorial consistency is in place, even if it just means making sure news item A fits in with your target readership.

    The issue is that whilst Phil has a point to be upset at how quickly and easily myths get out of hand on the net, the blame should reside less with the journalist, and more with the parent company who places less emphasis on journalism and more on the bottom line. If I could have spent my days writing features instead of trawling harvested articles, I would. It’s far more interesting, and far more rewarding. But it’s not what I got paid for…

    EDITED TO ADD: Although you’d think the arts might not be so focused on journalistic standards as science writing would be, I do believe the organisation I worked for tried its best to live up to proper research and reporting. So I don’t feel as though there should be a distinction made, at least based on my experience, because of arts vs science.

  51. Bob Thompson

    If trouble begins, all we have to do is repeat three times, “Betelgeuse”, and it will go away.

  52. amphiox

    Even some more massive and /or older G type yellow dwarfs such as Alpha Centauri can outshine our Sun.

    And of course, our little G type Sun today is outshining our Sun yesterday. And tomorrow it will shine just a wee bit brighter than it shines today.

  53. Andy

    Somehow, this strip came to my mind: http://abstrusegoose.com/321

  54. amphiox

    It’s disappointing that even the correct articles aren’t mentioning that even if the star exploded in 2012, we wouldn’t see it here for another 600 years.

    It would be incorrect for them to say that. Information moves at the speed of light, and the measurement of time is dependent on reference frame. That means that if you want to talk about when an event happens in any meaningful way, you have to specify the reference frame for the “when”. And that means that for any given reference frame, the time that an event happens is the time it is observed in that reference frame.

    If we see the star explode in 2012, then here, in earth’s reference frame, the explosion happens in 2012. In the exploding star’s reference frame it occurs at a different time, but from that star’s reference frame, the “earth year 2012″ is a meaningless concept, and because that star and our sun are continuously moving relative to one another, the “lag” between the event and our observation of it is a continuously changing variable.

  55. Joseph G

    #13 Douglas Watts: Congratulations Phil. In a weird way, your early blog jousting with Hoagland, McCanney et al. helped create the two key ingredients for you becoming a ‘go-to’ guy on a story like this: credibility and visibility. Both are essential. Reading the original ‘Cosmos’ book by Carl Sagan last night, I was reminded in his introduction that the entire PBS series was instigated by Sagan’s frustration that the US news media ignored the entire Viking mission to Mars. So Sagan got so pissed that he created Cosmos, the series. It took Sagan being royally pissed at the media for him to create a seminal event in public science media. In your own personal way, you are doing the same. And it is appreciated.

    Reposted for truth.

  56. Joseph G

    @# 18 Thopter: I couldn’t believe it when I found a Time article online about Betelgeuse in which the author said “coincidentally, the Mayan calendar predicted Armageddon in 2012.” Journalistic standards really are slipping.

    Lulz, seriously.
    Wow, the Mayans knew about Har Meggido in the future? They traveled to the future where they read ancient Semitic texts referring to a prophesied battle there? Incredible.

  57. Joseph G

    @#46 Mel Anderson: That’s a very good question.

    Warning – pulling LOTS of stuff out of my bum, here.
    I kinda doubt it, as based on what I’ve read about massive stars, (even stars as large as our own sun), they aren’t fully convective. Stars that large are even less likely to have any significant gas transport, down where nickel is being fused, to the surface, where astronomers could get spectra of the fusion products.
    There might be some way to get a ballpark figure by measuring the diameter and temperature of the star over time, but I’m sure scientists would need lots more data from a lot of stars before they could establish any kind of fingerprint to look for. And even then, it’d be a ballpark figure in terms of decades at the least, I’d bet. It’d help to have neutrino detectors near the star, but that’s not really practical :)

    Even heat transport from the core of a star that large takes a significant time – so even if there was a sudden increase or decrease in temperature of the core, we might not be able to tell for years (decades? Centuries?).
    That is, until it blows up. Then things happen quite fast :)

  58. Tod R. Lauer

    @59

    Once a RSG starts carbon burning, the inner structural changes that lead to core collapse happen too quickly for the rest of the star to adjust very much. This defines a time scale of several thousand years over which the star more or less exhibits no gross changes before it goes SN. You are correct that you would certainly not see any chemical changes. At the same time, really massive evolved stars do appear to have large instabilities in their luminosities. I don’t think it’s well understood if any of these might be harbingers of the final collapse.

    On the other hand, the neutrino emission really takes off during the final stages of nuclear burning, which is why it goes so fast from carbon burning on. Neutrino production occurs under the extremely high temperatures required to burn carbon and heavier elements, but paradoxically the star freezes to death. The neutrinos go straight out, contributing nothing to pressure support – the burning fuel is wasted. If you were close enough, you might detect the rise in neutrino emission in the final year of the star’s life – I believe that we’re close enough with present technology to see this for Alpha Ori. (Note that this emission is trivial compared to what comes out in the explosion itself.)

    Some have asked if the explosion is dangerous to look at by eye. The resolution of the eye is about 2 arcminutes, and it would take a long time for the Alpha Ori SN remnant to get to this size, by which time it would be vastly fainter. The resolution of the eye would dilute the light enough to avoid damage. Looking in a telescope would be a different matter if 1) the optics are fast and 2) the expanding photosphere is still hot when it’s resolved.

  59. Chris Winter

    Quote needing no comment:

    “Phil Plait, well known for his Bad Astronomy blog, has also done a service to humanity by giving a ranked list of threats in his recent book Death from the Skies!: These are the Ways the World Will End. He puts the odds of fatality per lifetime from a gamma ray burst at 1 in 14,000,000—20 times lower than an asteroid impact.”

    – Chris Impey, HOW IT ENDS: From You to the Universe, W. W. Norton, 2010, pp 179-180

  60. #48 Nigel:
    It certainly is! The Wynyard Observatory and Planetarium.

  61. Nigel Depledge

    @ Neil Haggath (62) –

    Ooh. I drive past it on my way to work each day.

  62. #63 Nigel:
    So you’re a fellow North-East man! Would you be interested in joining our society? See www dot cadas-astro dot org dot uk.
    I suggest we continue this conversation privately. You can e-mail me through my web site – click on my name.
    Neil

  63. Dear Phil.
    Of course,I have been frightened,by the ‘world’s new fobia’,as all current loose transcriptions of the doomsday in 2012,but now-with Betelgeuse in a main role.
    Reading huge amount of that ‘paraliterature’ it is very easy either to get depressed and finally crazy,or to start really thinking and gathering FACTS not MYTHS.
    I am not an astronomer,only an artist,but as an artist-probably overfragiled about the fate of the world,so gathering the FACTS and separating MYTHS I have come to the conclusion,that at last I will start sleeping peacefully,thanks to such Great People,like You and Mr.Morrison from ‘Ask an Astrobiologist’ site.
    My main purpose of writing to You is to THANK YOU for this site and’ also Bad Astronomy’,that explain everything in a right way to such usual and frightened person,like me.
    I hope,my English is OK and You did not have any problems reading my reply.
    I come from Poland-living in Denmark.
    Thank You once again
    -Halina-

  64. Underspot Bay

    Good post, Phil!
    Are you part of a conspiracy to hide 2012 (muahaha)? Just kidding! Haha!

  65. The star Betelgeuse, which is 600 light-years away, will already have exploded – and we’ll soon be in for a spectacular, and perfectly safe, interstellar fireworks show. If it is going to go Super Nova, well, it already has…somewhere around 1411. We just can’t see it yet. Funny how that works, huh One thing about the Super Nova. It will rise in the sky at midnight on Sept 22, 2011. It will light up the Eastern sky as if it were dawn. And at dawn we are going to see 2 suns in the sky.

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