Betelgeuse death watch!

I was momentarily excited. Betelgeuse is dimming! People are speculating that that could mean it’s going to explode in the near future! That would be cool, and I’d love to see a supernova flare up 600 light years away.

Unfortunately, to an astronomer, the “near future” is 100,000 to a million years from now.

Dang it. I guess that means I’ll have to stay alive and wait for it even longer.


  1. Thornae says

    There’s a SuperNova Early Warning System mailing list you can sign up to at – as far as I understand it, if there’s a sudden burst of neutrinos detected, it will send you an email, giving you just enough time to get outside and look up (provided you’re in the right part of the world at the time).

    I don’t expect it to ever be useful to me, but it’s nice to know that in the extremely unlikely event of a supernova in my lifetime, I might get to see it in real time…

  2. madtom1999 says

    Recently I had to make a decision about a pension fund and opted for hoping I lived another 30years partly in the hope of seeing the 2033 Leonids storm – the Leonids go mad every 33 years – in 1833 it was over 100,000 meteors and hour and I believe many religious nuts in the US killed themselves thinking it was the end of days.
    I found out recently 2033 is apparently not going to be a bumper year – but not why yet!

  3. robert79 says

    Wouldn’t that be roughly the same timescale that evolutionary biologists work on? Perhaps not “tomorrow”, but “next week”…

  4. christoph says

    If it cheers you up, what you’re seeing now happened about 642.5 years ago. So, it could be exploding right now!

  5. Larry says

    Betelgeuse. Betelgeuse. Betelgeuse.

    There. That’ll protect it for another couple million years.

  6. says

    If “the Leonids go mad every 33 years” the next time would be 2031, as simple addition would show. (There are a hundred years in a century, not 99.) I never read anything about “religious nuts” killing themselves in 1833, but sermons were preached, and William Miller was inspired to predict the second coming for 1844, thus giving birth to the Churches of God, the Seventh-Day Adventists, and (indirectly) the Witnesses.

  7. tacitus says

    Wouldn’t a supernova that close be pretty devastating to life on earth?

    No, it’s too far away to have any significant effect. It would have to be within a few dozen light years to cause problems.

  8. unclefrogy says

    I don’t expect it to ever be useful to me, but it’s nice to know that in the extremely unlikely event of a supernova in my lifetime, I might get to see it in real time…

    would be a fun thing to see but have to ask in this usage what does real time mean?
    space is big it is really big, it is mindbogglingly big…………….and so forth
    what is time to that
    not close enough to cause us any problems is good.
    uncle frogy

  9. chrislawson says


    Betelgeuse is 700 lightyears distant. The only reason it’s so bright (9th brightest in our sky) is that it is nearing the end of its red supergiant phase and is putting out 100,000x the light of our sun.

    Nobody knows for sure what will happen when it goes supernova, but astronomers seem to be of the opinion that it won’t have much effect on Earth. A good explanation can be found here. Short version: the initial light and neutrino spike would be observable but make no difference to us. A shockwave of charged particles would reach our solar system about 100,000 years after the supernova event, and it would be about 50% of the strength of the normal solar wind but the EM shielding of the sun’s magnetic field would prevent almost all of it from penetrating into the solar system itself.

    We do have a candidate for a Betelgeuse-like event. Vela Junior (RX J0852.0−4622) is a nebula thought to be the remnant of a supernova that exploded around 1250CE and it is almost the same distance as Betelgeuse. We don’t know how big the star was before the explosion. All that remains now is a thin nebula and possibly a pulsar. We do know that there are no historical records of a nova at that time or in that constellation, so there is still considerable uncertainty about the exact history of the event.

    There is an older nebula surrounding Vela Junior (Vela itself) also around 700-800 light-years away, but it went nova around 11,000 years ago so we would expect no historical records even though it was probably easily visible to humans at the time. We do know that there were climate changes around that time but the problem is that neither the Vela supernova event nor the climate events can be pinned down to accurate dates so we can’t even be sure if there is a correlation let alone a causal relationship.

    There have been attempts to link past supernova events with extinctions. These are based on correlating isotope bands with geological events. The jury is still out.

    Even if Betelgeuse does pose a hazard to life on Earth, it will not affect us until 100,000 years after it goes nova. That’s 20x the span of human history. I’m not particularly concerned about it given we appear to be at the start of a sixth mass extinction from very avoidable causes that we are refusing to address out of petty short-term thinking even though the metronome of this current extinction is ticking in years, not hundreds of millennia.

  10. brightmoon says

    Saw Betelgeuse near Mars and Antares about 12 years ago . Two red stars and a red planet. It was cool! I’d miss it as I look for the Winter Hexagon every year . Some of the only stars I can see in NYC.

  11. brightmoon says

    Aldebaran not Antares. (Sigh )forgetting my naked eye astronomy even though they’re both red.

  12. jack16 says

    @7 tltachyon

    As I read, there haven’t been any supernovas associated with our history (extinctions). The remnant of a recent one that was in records is the Crab. Oddly no records from Europe mention it though one. perhaps exaggerated, other account said it “lit up the sky like the sun for three days”.