January 2011

From now until December 21, 2012, you are going to hear many doomsday scenarios - some plausible - few credible - most not possible. They all lead to an inner knowing that the Earth experience as we know it, is about to change. We see it unfolding with natural disasters, weather patterns, human and animal behavior, pole shifts, human consciousness, and more.

On the celestial list of doomsday events that won't destroy planet Earth we find:

Betelgeuse is the ninth brightest star in the night sky and second brightest star in the constellation of Orion, outshining its neighbor Rigel only rarely.

Distinctly reddish-tinted, it is a semiregular variable star whose apparent magnitude varies between 0.2 and 1.2, the widest range of any first magnitude star. The star marks the upper right vertex of the Winter Triangle and center of the Winter Hexagon.

Classified as a red supergiant, Betelgeuse is one of the largest and most luminous stars known. If it were at the center of our Solar System, its surface would extend past the asteroid belt possibly to the orbit of Jupiter and beyond, wholly engulfing Mercury, Venus, the Earth and Mars.

However, with distance estimates in the last century that have ranged anywhere from 180 to 1,300 light years from Earth, calculating its diameter, luminosity and mass have proven difficult. Betelgeuse is currently thought to lie around 640 light years away, yielding a mean absolute magnitude of about -6.05.

In 1920, Alpha Ori was the first star (after the Sun) to have its angular diameter measured. Since then, researchers have used a number of telescopes to measure this stellar giant, each with different technical parameters, often yielding conflicting results.

Current estimates of the star's diameter range from about .043 to .056 arcseconds, a moving target at best as Betelgeuse appears to change shape periodically. Because of limb darkening, variability, and angular diameters that vary with wavelength, the star remains a perplexing mystery.

To complicate matters further, Betelgeuse has a complex, asymmetric envelope caused by colossal mass loss involving huge plumes of gas being expelled from its surface. There is even evidence of stellar companions orbiting within this gaseous envelope, possibly contributing to the star's eccentric behavior.

Astronomers believe Betelgeuse is only 10 million years old, but has evolved rapidly because of its high mass. It is thought to be a runaway star from the Orion OB1 Association, which also includes the late type O and B stars in Orion's belt - Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka. Currently in a late stage of stellar evolution, Betelgeuse is expected to explode as a type II supernova, possibly within the next million years.


In the News ...

Don't Panic! Betelgeuse Won't Explode in 2012   Discovery - January 22, 2011
Betelgeuse is a dying star. It's reached the end of the line and currently in the terminal throes of shedding vast bubbles of gas into space. Betelgeuse is a red supergiant star and it's so massive that it will detonate as a supernova. With all this drama happening 640 light-years away in the constellation of Orion, there's little wonder that this tumultuous star is easy headline bait.

2012 Rumors that won't happen

The infamous red super-giant star in Orion’s nebula -- Betelgeuse -- is predicted to go gangbusters and the impending super-nova may reach Earth before 2012, and when it does, all of our wildest Star Wars dreams will come true," the article says.

2012? Really?

The last time Betelgeuse hit the news was when research revealed the star was shrinking. But as pointed out by astronomers, this shrinkage could be part of a natural cycle, or it could be that Betelgeuse isn't symmetrical. Naturally, people got all weird about this fascinating science and concluded that a big boom was imminent.

And now we have some 2012 nonsense thrown into the equation. Even though it is abundantly clear that Betelgeuse is far enough away just to give us a safe firework display and not a roasting when it does go supernova, it seems the temptation is just too great for some doomsday theorists and tabloid writers.

There is absolutely no indication that the star will explode in the next year or so. Even the most advanced telescopes and sophisticated computer models cannot predict an exploding star with that precision!

By the article's own admission, the supernova might not happen for a million years -- begging the question as to why a half-baked 2012 Betelgeuse doomsday theory is even being mentioned. Betelgeuse is a fascinating star, but don't be concerned about its planet-killing ability. It's too far away and it might not go "gangbusters" for another million years.

Another article from 2010

Betelgeuse sparks doomsday debate   MSNBC - June 2, 2010
Is the constellation Orion's famous red supergiant due to go supernova sometime in the next few months? Mmmm, not likely, says Phil Plait, the scientist and skeptic who runs the Bad Astronomy website. And even if Betelgeuse does blow up, it won't pose a threat to Earth, he says.