One of the most well known and easily found constellerations in the sky is that of the hunter Orion. Orion is easily found by the three stars that make up his belt. The star in his top left hand shoulder is the super giant Betelgeuse and it has a special surprise in store.
Betelgeuse is near the end of its life. Or, more to the point, Betelgeuse is dead - only the light hasn't reached us yet. Which means it died less than 400 years ago.
Scientists have told us that Betelgeuse will only grace our sky for no more than a few decades. It may die tomorrow it may die in fifty years time but many who are alive today will still be alive when the light from Betelgeuse no longer is.
Betelgeuse's death will be nothing if not spectaular. Being a super giant star it will die in nothing less than a supernova! We have seen them for countless generations but very few in our own Galaxy. The last one was hundreds of years ago in 1604. All that remains of it now is a neutron star in the middle of a nebula. Betelgeuse will leave behind a black hole, a singularity surrounded by an event horizon!
The last nearby supernova was in 1987 in the Large Magellanic Cloud. It was the brightest supernova of four centuries at a magnitude of 2.8. Supernova 1987A was the first to be observed with modern instruments but Betelgeuse will give us much better information being so close that it will be 72 times brighter and will allow us to observe the formation of a black hole.
Although scientists have given our 'within the next five decades' warning, we will get one more warning and it will be slightly more accurate. All over the Solar System there are neutrino detectors. All of them are pointing at the same star. Three hours before we get something that will undoubtedly be 'silent but violent', there will be a neutrino burst. That will be our final warning.
Betelgeuse will light up. Its points will stretch from horizon to horizon on Earth. Night will be banished for months and on the outer planets it will be brighter than the Sun!
The last time anything like this happened was a couple of hundred, thousand years ago. Every telescope, optical or otherwise will be pointing at Orion's shoulder. You'll never forgive yourself if you're not looking in the same direction when Betelgeuse does the firework!
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