"Digitized Sky Survey Image of Betelgeuse" by ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2 / CC BY 4.0

The Biggest Celestial Event of the Year Could Happen Tomorrow

Jan 23, 2020

By Marina Koren

Sometime this week, you might walk outside in broad daylight, look up at the sky, and see a luminous orb as bright as a full moon. Only it wouldn’t be the moon. It would be something far more explosive: the dazzling aftermath of a cataclysm hundreds of light-years away.

You’d be seeing the light from a supernova—the final, powerful flash of a dying star.

Or … you might see the regular old sky. Supernovas are nearly impossible to predict. But astronomers have recently started discussing the rare possibility with a bit more enthusiasm than usual, thanks to some odd behavior elsewhere in the Milky Way. If the supernova did show up tomorrow, it would be the celestial event of the year, perhaps even the century, leaving a cosmic imprint in the sky for all to see.

In the night sky, the constellation Orion is most well-known for his belt, a row of three luminous stars. For the last few months, though, astronomers around the world have been particularly interested in his right shoulder, the home of a star called Betelgeuse, one of the brightest stars in the sky. Betelgeuse—which, yes, is pronounced like Beetlejuice—has been dimming more than it ever had before. Astronomers have long known that Betelgeuse is aging and, like many old stars, is bound to explode sooner or later. Could this mystery dimming mean that a supernova might be imminent?

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