Massive star Betelgeuse continues to act weird on an unprecedented scale
Just a few months ago it was 2.5 times brighter, which means it could be thrashing around preparing to explode.
Eric MackContributing Editor
Eric Mack has been a CNET contributor since 2011. Eric and his family live 100% energy and water independent on his off-grid compound in the New Mexico desert. Eric uses his passion for writing about energy, renewables, science and climate to bring educational content to life on topics around the solar panel and deregulated energy industries. Eric helps consumers by demystifying solar, battery, renewable energy, energy choice concepts, and also reviews solar installers. Previously, Eric covered space, science, climate change and all things futuristic. His encrypted email for tips is firstname.lastname@example.org.
ExpertiseSolar, solar storage, space, science, climate change, deregulated energy, DIY solar panels, DIY off-grid life projects. CNET's "Living off the Grid" series. https://www.cnet.com/feature/home/energy-and-utilities/living-off-the-grid/Credentials
Finalist for the Nesta Tipping Point prize and a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Betelgeuse is a gigantic red supergiant star that was the 10th brightest star in the sky as recently as 2019. But over the past few months it has dimmed so dramatically it's now ranked 24th, and it has astronomers wondering if it might be ready to burst in a spectacular supernova explosion.
Edward Guinan and other astronomers from Villanova University shared a brief update on Betelgeuse over the weekend, reporting it's now about one full magnitude fainter than it was in September. Magnitude is the scale of brightness astronomers assign to objects in the night sky. Put another way, this change in scale means that Betelgeuse was about 2.5 times brighter in September than it is right now.
"The most recent photometric observations indicate that Betelgeuse is currently the least luminous and coolest yet measured from our 25 years of photometry," the astronomers write.
Betelgeuse is nearing the end of its life. It's expected to go supernova sometime in the next 100,000 years by first shrinking and collapsing in on itself before rebounding in a remarkable explosion that could be brighter than the moon and even visible during daylight. It's possible we're seeing the start of those death throes now. Or it could be something else.
Stephen Hawking's favorite places in the universe (pictures)
The latest observations of Betelgeuse indicate that the dimming seems to be slowing, but astronomers are sure to keep a close eye on it in the coming weeks. For the rest of us, because this is 2020 we can keep an eye on the superstar's status by following the numerous (and often humorous) Betelgeuse Twitter accounts that have popped up.
Watch this: Black Hole Hunters: See the moment scientists saw the event horizon for the first time