Betelgeuse Supernova

Couple weeks ago, I was sitting on the patio at Kennedy's with my friends, we were drinking beer and somehow our conversation died down. We were quiet and then someone asked me what is new? I said from the top of my head, well, Betelgeuse is going to explode. They jumped from their seats being very surprised and intrigued... OMG When? How does  that happen? Unbelievable!!!

Then they looked at each other, both were so confused, and then they asked me: What the fuck is Betelgeuse?

I was laughing.

Betelgeuse is an amazing star. It's one of Orion's shoulders and so when we look up at the constellation Orion, it's right there in front of us. 

Most stars other than the sun we don't get to actually see in any detail, we just see them as light point. But Betelgeuse is big enough in our sky that we can resolve it with the Hubble Space Telescope and with radio telescopes. And what we see in those images is that the star is hectic. It's not a perfect sphere. It's a boiling thing.

We see that there is powerful thermodynamic exchange going on inside Betelgeuse. The entire star is essentially boiling in an extreme way. We see convection on our sun but with Betelgeuse, this boiling is on a completely different scale.

Located some 650 light-years from Earth, Betelgeuse usually ranks as the tenth brightest star in the night sky. 

Astronomers think that Betelgeuse is only 10 million years old, that's 50 times younger than our sun. Despite its relatively young age, Betelgeuse has already run out of the hydrogen fuel in its core and is now in the final, red giant stage of its life, fusing helium to carbon. 

The reason for Betelgeuse's fast-paced life is the fact that it was likely born very massive. According to ScienceAlert, Betelgeuse used to be a blue-white O-type star, the most massive hydrogen-burning star. The bigger the star, the brighter it shines and the hotter it burns. But also the faster it runs out of its hydrogen and the sooner it turns into a red giant. 

In its prime, Betelgeuse must have been tens of times more massive than our sun and tens to hundreds of times more luminous. Temperatures on its surface may have reached up to a mind-boggling 50,000 degrees Celsius, compared to the sun's 5,500 degrees C.

After Betelgeuse exhausted its hydrogen and began burning helium, its envelope expanded far beyond its original size. Betelgeuse's surface is now cooler than that of the sun. Still, the star shines 7,500 to 14,000 times brighter than our star.

In recent years, Betelgeuse has been making headlines as its behavior has become somewhat erratic. For centuries, astronomers have observed Betelgeuse's brightness to wax and wane on a regular 400-day cycle.

But in December 2019, the star had suddenly gone 2.5 times fainter than what had ever been seen before. The cause of the event, since dubbed the Great Dimming, was later traced to an enormous expulsion of material from the star's interior that created a huge dust cloud that subsequently obscured our view of the star. 

Although the dust cloud has since dissipated and Betelgeuse has regained its usual brightness, the star has not been quite its old self since. Its 400-day brightness oscillation period has halved to 200 days and, on top of that, in the spring of 2023, the star began to brighten beyond its usual peak luminosity. 

Betelgeuse's behavior prompted expectations that the star might soon explode in a supernova. Supernova explosions are the destiny of very massive stars. After they consume all of the helium in their cores, red giants begin to burn carbon and oxygen into neon and magnesium, then burn those into silicon. Eventually, the stars' cores fill with iron. And that's when the fireworks begin.

If or rather when Betelgeuse Supernova happens there will be still 650 years before Betelgeuse is gone from the sky entirely. 

That brings us to my favorite poem, Death Without End by Jose Gorostiza

...this incessant stubborn dying,
this living death,
that slays you, oh God,
in your rigorous handiwork,
in the roses, in the stones,
in the indomitable stars and in the flesh that burns out,
like a bonfire lit by a song,
a dream,
a hue that hits the eye.  

...and you, yourself,
perhaps have died eternities of ages out there,
without us knowing about it,
we dregs, crumbs, ashes of you;
you that still are present,
like a star faked by its very light,
an empty light without star that reaches us,
its infinite catastrophe.