Orion Constellation Research Papers
Now, let’s look at that other term, “close.” It’s not so easy to measure the distance to a bright red giant star like Betelgeuse.Different methods give answers ranging from 520 light years to nearly 700 light years.Some of the scenarios are so unlikely that they are hardly worth considering–for instance, a stellar-mass black hole barreling straight toward our solar system.But there’s one disaster that falls into the sweet spot.I wrote one of the first Armageddon-science articles, entitled “20 Ways the World Could End,” which was published for the 20th anniversary of this magazine, and followed it with a sequel a decade later.Some potential cosmic catastrophes are modest enough that we could potentially avert them–an asteroid on an Earth-collision path being a prime example.
If Betelgeuse is almost 20 times as massive as the Sun, as most studies indicate, then it will explode sometime within the next 100,000 years, leaving a celestial splatter similar to Cassiopeia A, that it could explode tomorrow.
As soon as we pick apart that term “soon,” the situation starts to look less dire.
Astronomers estimate that Betelgeuse is approximately 10 million years old, and it began expanding into a red giant 40,000 years ago.
Fortunately (or unfortunately, if you are hoping for some really exciting destruction), our Sun will not, can not ever explode as a supernova. No nearby star is a supernova candidate either–not surprising, since stars massive enough to go supernova are few and far between.
The closest likely candidates are two bright red stars that are both prominent in the sky, and that are both coincidentally rather similar in distance: Antares in the constellation Scorpius and Betelgeuse in Orion.