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Don’t panic! Betelgeuse is (almost certainly) not about to explode

24 Dec 2019, 14:00 UTC
Don’t panic! Betelgeuse is (almost certainly) not about to explode
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Let's get this out of our systems right away: Betelgeuse! Betelgeuse! Betelgeuse!

[Looks around]

Hmmmm, nothing. Maybe I'm spelling it wrong?

Nope. In this case I'm talking about the star, bright and red, that marks Orion's right shoulder (his right, but we see it on his left), a massive and massively luminous red supergiant nearing the end of its life, and that will one day explode as a titanic supernova.

But recently, it's been not so bright. Betelgeuse has faded. A lot. It's dropped in brightness by around a factor of two, and it happened fairly rapidly. According to reports, it began dimming in October 2019, and to anyone familiar with Orion it's noticeably dimmer right now even by eye. That's been getting a lot of attention online, in part because people are familiar with the star (thanks in part to the movie), and also because Orion is above the eastern horizon shortly after it gets dark this time of year. And, of course, Betelgeuse is one of the brightest stars in the sky, easily spotted, so lots of people have been able to see its shenanigans.

So should we panic? Is this dimming a precursor to it going kablooie?

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