If you’ve ever had an interest in astronomy, then you’ve probably seen an artist’s interpretation of a red supergiant star before. The ancient stars are usually depicted as giant red orbs that may be shown in the act of baking an alien planet or even eating one. They may be an angry shade of red and have some fancy set dressing, but for the most part, depictions of red supergiants are pretty similar to the look of our own Sun. Now, a new perspective on the red supergiant star Betelgeuse makes it look every bit the part of a star ready to explode.
According to Skymania, French Astronomers Pierre Kervella and Dr. Bernd Freytag used observational data obtained from several high powered telescopes over the past 7 and a half years to create an animation of Betelgeuse as it would appear to the unaided human eye. The roiling, uneven mass of Betelgeuse depicted in the animation looks even more like an out of control ball of energy on the verge of a supernova than anyone ever guessed. The turbulent surface of Betelgeuse would go a long way towards explaining why its luminosity varies so much and why observations in 2009 seemed to suggest that the star had shrunk 15% since 1993.
Red supergiants are massive stars at the end of their cosmic lifespan. These bloated nuclear furnaces can be so large that they have a radius anywhere between 200 to 1500 times of that of our own Sun. After they eventually burn off enough of their available fissile material they’ll collapse in on themselves and depending on the mass of the star, either just collapse straight into a black hole, or exploded in a Type II supernova that will leave behind either a black hole or a neutron star.
Betelgeuse, which is the brightest example of a red supergiant in our night sky, is located in the armpit of the Orion constellation’s club-wielding arm 640 light-years away. It is on the verge of exploding so violently that it will briefly outshine our own moon, but don’t worry, it’s only on the verge in a cosmic sense. Betelgeuse could go anytime in the next million years with the odds of it happening in our own lifetimes being relatively remote. It will be an amazing thing to behold when it happens, but that underground supernova shelter you may be building in your back yard can probably wait. That being said, the new animation doesn’t exactly make you feel like this star is the most stable thing in the cosmos either.
To be on the safe side, try not to say its name three times in a row, you know, just in case.