Betelgeuse, pronounced “BET-tal-joos“, is a red supergiant star in the well-known constellation Orion the Hunter. It’s one of the brightest stars visible on the night sky, and it recently created some buzz around itself. If you are not a professional scientist, and you only want to know what a regular person needs to know about this star, look no further – here are ten questions and answers about our star you always wanted to know but were too afraid to ask.
1. Will Betelgeuse explode (soon)?
Some day, for sure. But probably not today, not tomorrow, not next year, or even not next decade.
There is no real consensus between astronomers. Some say that the star could explode years ago, but the light hasn’t come to Earth yet; some say that our red supergiant star will explode very soon, during our lifetime; and, in the end, some say that the star has a long life ahead of his. So – nobody knows for sure. We have to deal with it.
2. Can Betelgeuse Kill us?
Although the red supergiant is one of the closest stars for a candidate to the future Near-Earth supernova, it will probably not kill us, simply because the distance from it to the Earth is too great. Earth will probably be not destroyed or affected at all.
3. Is Betelgeuse Dimming/Fading? Why?
Yes, it is, and it’s totally normal behavior for this type of star.
4. How far is Betelgeuse from Earth?
For comparison, the average distance between Earth and Moon is 1.2… light-seconds, not even light-years.
The closest star to Earth except for Sun, the Proxima Centauri, is 4.22 light-years far from our planet.
The furthest humanity ever went (spiritually at least – as machine constructors) is around 20 light-hours (as of October 2018) – Voyager 1.
As you can see, the Earth’s distance to Betelgeuse is considerable.
5. Where to Look to Find Betelgeuse on the Night Sky?
The star is a part of Orion constellation, one of the biggest and most-recognizable (even for no astronomy fans) constellations of the northern sky. You don’t need binoculars or a telescope to spot it – you can see it clearly with your naked eyes. It’s the most orange star there, and you can easily locate it by finding three stars that lay even horizontally in-line, the so-called Orion’s Belt (Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka stars). Betelgeuse is this big, orange dot above them.
6. What does Betelgeuse mean?
Its English name comes from the Arabic language and means “the hand of Orion”.
7. How to Photograph Betelgeuse (When it is Still “Alive”)?
Our star is so bright that you can capture it even with your smartphone.
Yet, if you want something more than a white dot on a black background, some heavier equipment is needed. A DSLR/mirrorless camera like Fuji X-T20, Canon EOS 5D/6D or Nikon D7500 set on a stationary tripod will be more than sufficient for this quest. Set your lens aperture to fully-open (the lowest f/ number), set some high ISO (1600, 3200, 6400) point your camera to the star, set your camera on a tripod, and shoot for a few seconds.
Of course, you can apply all the astrophotography techniques I write about on this site like tracking and stacking to get even better results!
8. Who discovered Betelgeuse?
The star was known in antique times already, so there is no true discoverer. However, the most known modern scientists who have worked on this star is John Herschel.
9. Which galaxy is Betelgeuse in?
Is it in Andromeda? In Pinwheel? Or maybe in Whirlpool?
Well, not exactly. The star is part of the same galaxy, as Sun (and our whole Solar System, including Earth) – the Milky Way (in the Orion Arm to be precise). The red/orange star is our neighbor (at least in cosmic terms).
10. Betelgeuse vs Sun
|Type of star||red supergiant||G-type main-sequence|
|Mass||9.5 – 21 M☉(solar mass)||2 × 1030 kg|
|Radius||≈ 887 R☉(solar radius)||1.9884 × 1030 kg|
|Age||≈ 8.5 million years||≈ 4.6 billion years|
|Spectral type||M1–M2 Ia–ab||G2V|
|Temperature||3500 K||5778 K|
|Distance from Earth||642,5 light-years||8,5 light-minutes|
Some day for sure, but rather not during our lifetime.
Yes, it can be, even with naked eyes.
Betelgeuse is an orange-colored “dot” just above the Orion’s Belt (Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka stars).
Rigel, Bellatrix, Alnitak, Alnilam, Mintaka, Saiph, Meissa.
Yes, Betelgeuse is around 887 size of the Sun (in terms of radius), and 10 – 20 heavier (weight) than our star.
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