Betelgeuse is the red supergiant star in Orion, a prominent constellation spanning the celestial equator. The star is one of the brightest objects in the heavens and is easily visible to the naked eye.
With a diameter of 767 million miles (1.2 billion km) Betelgeuse has been calculated to have ten times the mass of our Sun.
The star is so unimaginably massive that if the star sat at the solar system’s centre, Betelguese’s outer edge would stretch beyond the orbit of Mars.
The star is estimated to be between nine and ten million years old, in contrast to our Sun’s age of about 4.5 billion years.
Yet although the Sun remains roughly middle-aged, Betelgeuse is approaching the end of its life.
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Betelgeuse supernova: The star is one of the brightest objects in the heavens and is easily visible
Betelgeuse supernova: The star is one of the brightest objects in the heavens and is easily visible to the naked eye
Could Betelgeuse go supernova?
Astronomers in October 2019 realised Betelgeuse’s brightness suddenly started to dim.
Betelgeuse was until then recognised as one of the 10 brightest stars in the sky and the second brightest in Orion.
However, the star’s brightness had dropped to the 21st place by the end of last year, according to some estimates.
Much has been made about this sudden dimming of Betelgeuse.
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Some in the media claim the dimming is proof Betelgeuse is going to blow, ending the star’s life in a spectacular supernova explosion.
The dimming of Betelgeuse is not actually as unusual as has been made out.
Astronomers have long known Betelgeuse is a variable star, meaning its brightness can fluctuate.
The star has multiple cycles of dimming: a 5.9-year main cycle and, within that, several smaller ones.
It is consequently conceivable the aggregate of all these cycles can make the star look extremely faint.
Betelgeuse supernova: The star is approaching the end of its life
Betelgeuse supernova: Astronomers in October 2019 realised Betelgeuse’s brightness suddenly started to dim
Another possibility is the fluctuating brightness could be caused an enormous eruption of gas or dust significantly altering the amount of light emanating from the star’s surface.
Most scientists agree that although Betelgeuse will go supernova, this will most likely not occur in our lifetimes.
Experts agree all supergiants end their lives as supernovae.
And in Betelgeuse’s case, such a supernova event is forecast to occur sometime within the next few hundred thousand years.
However, predicting supernovae remains an inexact science, meaning there is an outside chance that Betelguese’s epic end could be imminent, with a supernova taking place 642 years ago and the light from it only now about to reach Earth.