Star profile: Betelgeuse

by Chris Phoenix Clarke

Betelgeuse (pronounced ‘betel-jers’) is a red supergiant star around 640 light years away in the constellation of Orion. It is nearly 1000 times larger than the Sun and 20 times more massive; it’s diameter alone would be enough to engulf Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars and would reach the orbit of Jupiter.

Betelgeuse, as compared to our Sun.
Betelgeuse, as compared to our Sun.

The star is in the final stages of its lifecycle and is expected to go supernova any time between now and the next million years. Upon doing so, Betelgeuse–or at the very least the light from the explosion–will outshine the full Moon and be clearly visible in broad daylight.  Due to the distance involved it is quite possible that Betelguese has already exploded, but we wouldn’t know about it until the light had completed its 640 year journey to Earth!

Doomsayers in 2012 claimed the ensuing gamma-ray burst from the supernova could result in the end of the world, but due the the star’s axis of rotation being tilted away from the Earth this almost certainly debunks the claims.

All that will be left of Betelguese after its impending supernova is a star remnant known as a neutron star. Approximately 20 km in diameter, the neutron star will still weigh more than our own sun and spin incredibly fast – some do in excess of 100 times per second! It is even possible the resulting remnant will be a pulsar neutron star, emitting regular pulses of electromagnetic radiation from the polar regions for many thousands of years (and with such alarming regularity that the pulses might only go out of sync by 3 milliseconds per million years!).

Betelgeuse is clearly visible to the naked eye as a bright red star (it is actually the 8th brightest in the night sky). If you face south and look to the right just after dark, Betelgeuse is the top-left star in Orion (the hunter constellation that resembles a man shooting a bow).

For more information about neutron stars please visit: http://wp.me/p1ZF2o-4G

Written by Chris Phoenix Clarke

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