Thursday, June 11, 2009

Red giant Betelgeuse may go supernova?!

Shaun Saunders sends in a VERY interesting article from Fox news online. It seems that the red giant Betelgeuse (the bright red star in the left shoulder of Orion) may soon explode in a supernova - this according to data released by UC Berkley.

The indications are pretty startling all in themselves. Betelgeuse's enormous size would have once reached all the way out to the orbit of Jupiter if placed in the center of the solar system has begun to shrink, as much as 15% already. Scientists will watch the star over the next few years to see if the shrinking continues. It may also rebound. This type of behavior is thought to precede the final cataclysmic explosion as the star "exhausts one fuel" and switches to more denser materials to fuse. Star's need to keep the fusion process going to hold up their massive atmospheres. Stars (especially super - massives like Betelgeuse) are thought to begin this size fluctuations as they fuse all their hydrogen and switch over to helium and finally the process ends with iron. At this point the fusion process can not hold up the star's outer atmosphere and it collapses onto the core releasing more energy in a few moments that an entire galaxy.

Should the supernova event happen, Earth would be in for a spectacular show. Betelgeuse is 600 light-years away, and so may have already exploded.

Now this reminds me of Shaun's story Last Light (available in his book Navigating in the New World) which concerns a race destroyed by a gama radiation blast from a super nova. (when the explosion starts, huge amounts of gama radiation are channeled in beams from the north and south pole of the star. Should a planet be in the path of this beam, said planet would "cook" very much as if in a microwave. Though to be completely fair, GRBs are extremely rare events. Check this article out for more info on GRBs)

Fox news online article

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