COLUMBUS (WCMH) — One of the 10 brightest stars in the nighttime sky is suddenly getting dimmer, with soft fuzzy edges.
Betelguese, the red supergiant star on the western edge of the constellation Orion (left shoulder) has changed its shape in recent months, creating speculation that a supernova is on the horizon.
“It’s been doing some very strange things recently,” said Marc Pinsonneault, an astronomer at The Ohio State University. “It’s become dramatically dimmer.”
Pinsonneault speculates that Betelgeuse will eventually implode, or go supernova, but the unpredictable time scale could be anywhere from months to thousands of years from now.
At a distance of more than 650 light years from Earth, the effects of such a cosmic explosion wouldn’t cause any harm on Earth from emitted radiation. (One light year is nearly 6 trillion miles.)
“If it explodes, it would be by far the brightest object in the night sky,” said Pinsonneault. This kind of rare visible event hasn’t happened in hundreds of years, and would be something hugely important for scientists.
Pinsonneault said observing a supernova in real-time would provide a great deal of new information on such things as the end stages of stars, and the nature of the periodic elements.