Catholic U. researcher among those watching for Betelgeuse supernova

Catholic University offered this comparison of the star Betelgeuse before and after its “unprecedented dimming.” (Credit:ESO/M. Montargès et al.)

One of the brightest stars in the sky got dimmer, causing some to wonder if a huge explosion was imminent.

The star is Betelgeuse, which is part of the Orion constellation.

“Betelgeuse is a red supergiant, and this means that this star will sooner or later explode into supernova,” said Gioia Rau, a research assistant professor of physics at Catholic University, who is helping with analyzing and interpreting data about the star.

“So, it’s not a matter of if, but it’s a matter of when,” she said. Rau also works for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

The star is expected to explode sometime in the next 100,000 years, but some thought it might happen sooner rather than later, because it recently underwent a historic, unprecedented dimming.

“Of course, people are very excited about the idea that Betelgeuse will go supernova right now, but this is just one of the hypotheses,” Rau said.

The star is now getting brighter again, raising the possibility that a dust cloud — and not a looming explosion — was the cause of the dimming.

But, if it were to happen, what might a supernova look like to us?

“It will shine as bright as a half-moon for more than three months,” Rau said. “It will be visible, not only during the nighttime with the naked eye for several years, but also will be visible during the daytime,” for about a year.

Watch this video from the European Southern Observatory that takes viewers to Betelgeuse:

John Aaron

John Aaron is a news anchor and reporter for WTOP. After starting his professional broadcast career as an anchor and reporter for WGET and WGTY in Gettysburg, PA, he went on to spend several years in the world of sports media, working for Comcast SportsNet, MLB Network Radio, and WTOP sports.

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