Betelgeuse ‘bout to blow, but when?

JACKSON, Wyo. — The stargazing community worldwide has had telescope trained on the second-brightest star in the constellation of Orion, the 10th brightest in the night sky, Betelgeuse, for some time now. It’s a death watch for the first-magnitude star.

The constellation Orion with Betelgeuse (in red) at the shoulder. Wikimedia

Any day now, or night, the red supergiant is expected to explode and go supernova. Any day, that is, within the next 100,000 years or so. That’s fairly soon in astronomical terms, especially for a star that’s assumed the celestial place on Orion the Hunter’s mighty right shoulder for about 10 million years.

Supernova is the final dying stages of a star. During the powerful and luminous stellar explosion, these massive stars increase in brightness as they eject most of their mass in a process of ‘runaway nuclear fusion’ that takes place in a matter of mere months.

The catastrophic event called ‘supernova’ was coined by Walter Baade and Fritz Zwicky in the late 1920s. Betelgeuse is thought to be headed into this phase. When it supernovas is anyone’s guess, and Dr. Doug Leonard will hazard his this weekend during a Wyoming Stargazing World Above the Tetons Speaker Series event scheduled for Saturday, May 23.

Dr. Doug Leonard is Associate Professor of Astronomy at San Diego State University. Courtesy photo

Dr. Leonard will discuss his research on supernova, exploding stars, as well as an update on when Betelgeuse will explode. The event has gone virtual, utilizing the Zoom platform, due to COVID-19.

Wyoming Stargazing plans to have ‘virtual’ door prizes and a raffle drawing for a framed astrophotography print. The Zoom link will be shared with everyone who signs up on the website.

Dr. Leonard is Associate Professor of Astronomy at San Diego State University. He received his B.A. in astronomy and astrophysics from the University of Pennsylvania, and his M.S. and Ph.D. in astrophysics from the University of California, Berkeley.

Leonard’s publications include over 100 articles in the technical literature field. A passionate science educator, his latest endeavors include work on several BBC/Horizon and Science Channel videos on black holes, cosmology, and the deaths of stars.

Wyoming Stargazing presents World Above the Tetons Speaker Series. Saturday, May 23, 7:30 – 8:30 p.m.

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