January 22, 2011
Waiting For Betelgeuse To Explode: 2012? Second Sun?

Either we won't live to see it or Betelgeuse could do a supernova explosion at any time and for a couple of weeks it'll be much brighter out.

The second biggest star in the universe is losing mass, a typical indication that a gravitation collapse is occurring.

When that happens, we'll get our second sun, according to Dr Brad Carter, Senior Lecturer of Physics at the University of Southern Queensland.

I think this means it will be bright at night if Earth is at the right point in its orbit. Anyone know the direction of Betelgeuse as compared the plain of our solar system? Do we have the Sun between us and Betelgeuse during some part of the year?

If it is bright enough to appear as a second sun then won't it heat up the atmosphere? What fraction of the Sun's radiation would that supernova provide?

But since Betelgeuse might not explode for a million years some astronomers think the article above makes too much of the possibility. One astronomer says it will only get as bright as the moon. I guess I'll go back to worrying about VEI 7 (volcanic explosivity index 7) and VEI 8 eruptions. A VEI 7 would repeat the 1816 Year Without Summer. A VEI 8 would probably cause an ice age. Billions would die.

Of course, this reminds of Michael Keaton as BeetleJuice.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 January 22 08:01 PM  Dangers Natural General

Fat Man said at January 23, 2011 8:35 AM:

DON'T PANIC! Betelgeuse Won't Explode in 2012
Analysis by Ian O'Neill
Thu Jan 20, 2011


"UPDATE: The Huffington Post is reporting the same story, but they've made the mistake of attributing some of the News.com.au article's conclusions to Dr Brad Carter, Senior Lecturer of Physics at the University of Southern Queensland.

Although Carter does provide quotes, he does not say that due to a Betelgeuse supernova "we'd see a second sun", "there may also be no night" or "the Star Wars-esque scenario could happen by 2012." These statements were made by the reporter, not the interviewee (as far as we can tell from the article)."

Blogs / Bad Astronomy
Betelgeuse and 2012

"Itís the question of when that the two articles go off the rails. Betelgeuse may explode tomorrow night, or it may not go kerblooie until the year 100,000 A.D. We donít know. But given that huge range, the odds of it blowing up next year are pretty slim. And clearly, the original article was really trying to tie in the 2012 date to this, even when it has nothing to do with anything. The tie-in was a rickety link to scuttlebutt on the web about it, but thatís about it.

"Whatís worse, the HuffPo article attributes the date to Dr. Carter himself, but in the original article he never says anything about it; the connection is all made by the article author. Given how popular HuffPo is, I imagine a lot of people will now think an actual scientist is saying Betelgeuse will blow up in 2012.

"OK then, tell you what: Iím an actual scientist, and I would give the odds of Betelgeuse going supernova in 2012 at all ó let alone close to December, the supposed doomsdate ó as many thousands to one against. Itís not impossible, itís just really really really really really really really unlikely.

"At 600+ light years, a supernova would be pretty bright, but hardly bright enough to be a second Sun, as both article say. Sorry, no Tatooine-like sunsets for us. It wouldnít even be as bright as the full Moon, really, but certainly far brighter than Venus. Enough to cast a shadow, which would actually be pretty cool."

Bruce said at January 23, 2011 10:30 AM:

Randall: "I guess I'll go back to worrying about VEI 7"

I'm more worried that sea level has stopped rising. This implies our current interglacial has come to an end.


And the NAO and PDO have switched to the cold phase. 30-40 years of colder climate.

In the UK, wind is at its lowest level since 1824


And on top of that the wind turbines are too close together.


The UK is screwed.

Ken Hirsch said at January 23, 2011 6:24 PM:

Betelgeuse is Orion's armpit. Orion is one of the most prominent winter constellations; it's easy to spot the belt. Since Orion isn't in the Zodiac, Betelgeuse won't pass directly behind the Sun. It is pretty close, though. Around June 21, it's only around 16 degrees from the Sun.

William O. B'Livion said at January 24, 2011 3:47 AM:

""At 600+ light years, a supernova would be pretty bright..."

So you're saying it may already have happened?

Oh Noes!

Personally, I blame the Bush Administration for not preparing us better for this.

Jim Benson said at January 24, 2011 10:10 AM:

It always amazes me how the "end of the world" pundits and predictors always predict these end of the world, "the sky is falling" screams that will occur during their own lifetimes.
It is if they think they were put on earth to be around to announce and participate in the activities ("I told you so") when the end of the world arrives.

Duh said at January 24, 2011 10:23 AM:

Just remember: if Betelgeuse blows up and the explosion hits us in December 2012, then the Mayans predicted it.

If not, they didn't.

On a serious note, isn't it the gamma radiation that's the big threat?

Astroprisoner said at January 24, 2011 10:28 AM:

Personally, as soon as I read the description of Betelgeuse as "second biggest star in the universe," the credibility of the article dropped sharply in my eyes.

In the Ėentire universe-? Even including those galaxies so far away that we canít make out individual stars? And yet we know for a fact that only one star is larger? No, actually we donít, and a little bit of digging with Google shows that Betelgeuse isnít even the second largest star in our galaxy.

One more case of a journalist or Hollywood writer who canít distinguish between solar system, galaxy, and universe.

Jay Manifold said at January 24, 2011 10:37 AM:

At 600 LY we have nothing to worry about, even from gammas. Visually it would be wonderful due to the combination of greater-than-Venus brightness and, since it would be a point source, scintillation Ė imagine the way Sirius looks when itís low on the horizon, but much brighter and flashing every color in the rainbow.

If it were, say, 10^9 solar luminosities, which I think is whatís implied in the Bad Astronomy quote, then at 600 LY it would be magnitude Ė11.5, which is about half as bright as a full Moon.

Vader said at January 24, 2011 10:38 AM:

Look, this article was a puff piece full of questionable science and bad assumptions.

Betelgeuse is going to explode, all right ... sometime in the next million years.

When you do the math, you find out that a Type II supernova explosion at the distance of Betelgeuse would have an apparent luminosity about a millionth that of the Sun. It would still be impressive, but hardly a "second sun."

Bill Adams said at January 24, 2011 11:03 AM:

Yeah, when Betelguese goes, it won't affect us anyway.

But when the Yellowstone supervolcano goes, North America goes with it.

David Gillies said at January 24, 2011 12:27 PM:

It looks like there are no stars close enough to do us any harm when they go supernova, although if we were very unlucky and one went full-on gamma ray burst with one of the jets pointed in our direction it could get interesting. Eta Carinae is quite a good candidate for the next naked-eye star to go supernova and could be a GRB although at present its rotation axis does not appear to be pointed at us. Sirius is nearby but far too small to undergo a supernova.

PacRim Jim said at January 24, 2011 1:51 PM:

How easily diverted are we from pressing problems at hand.
How the political manipulators snicker at us.

William said at January 24, 2011 1:54 PM:

"The second biggest star in the universe" ?

jesse said at January 24, 2011 3:09 PM:

I think the "second biggest star in the universe" claim is likely a misunderstanding of Betelgeuse's previous standing as the star with the largest angular diameter after the sun as viewed from earth. But that only lasted until 1997 when another closer star was measured to be visually larger from our perspective even though it's only 1/3rd the physical size.

th said at January 24, 2011 3:29 PM:

These leftist pricks know the masses way better than the tabloids ever did.

Randall Parker said at January 24, 2011 8:01 PM:

Jim Benson,

Well, as anyone who was around at the time can tell you: The dinosaurs were pretty complacent. Look what that got them.

Yes, sure, lots of triceratops went around telling everyone a massive meteor strike was going to wipe them all out. But all the velociraptor and tyrannosaurus rex gangs were contemptuous of the triceratops, portraying them as hopeless mystics. Ha!

Even today triceratops does not get the respect it so richly deserves. Instead of getting hailed as prophets of the end time mainstream science attempts to marginalize triceratops by claiming that triceratops never even existed. Talk about getting written out of history.

But then being a prophet of doom is a thankless task. You only get a short period of people recognizing you were right before everyone is dead or living in caves again.

Nick G said at January 25, 2011 11:11 AM:


Have you seen any discussion of the impact of on wind farm output of a change from standard spacing to wider spacing suggested by that paper? I can't find anything quantitative.

Bruce said at January 25, 2011 12:36 PM:

Nick, if you search google for UK Wind underperforming or various combinations:

"The analysis of power output found that more than 20 wind farms are operating at less than one-fifth of their full capacity."


"Critics of wind power have seized on new research which shows Scotlandís turbines have produced little more than half the power they were supposed to this year.

The figures show for almost a third of the time Scotlandís turbines were producing less than 5 per cent of their output, and for 80 per cent of the time were operating at less than their stated capacity."


I suspect fraud and incompetence plays a part in bad performance, but maybe the math they used to space and place the turbines caused some of the underperforming.

Nick G said at January 25, 2011 1:44 PM:


Neither of those those reports provides good numbers. They look like press releases from anti-wind organizations, like the Renewable Energy Foundation that put out the Telegraph article above. Their use of figures, which tends to confuse capacity factors, efficiency and name-plate ratings, reminds me of the old joke about Eisenhower being alarmed by a report that half of our nation's children were below average.

Advocacy pieces like these are useful for raising questions, but not for answering them.

Bruce said at January 25, 2011 5:01 PM:

"During Decemberís cold snaps, the windfarmsí output repeatedly fell sharply, National Grid data shows.
On the coldest day, December 20, the average temperature was minus 5.6C. But just as demand for electricity to heat homes was rising, the winds failed.

That evening the recorded output from the UKís wind farms dipped to 59 megawatts.

Wind experts say the National Grid only detects half the output of wind farms and that the real figure was 120MW Ė still only one-fiftieth of maximum capacity.

The following day, when the average temperature was minus 5.2C, turbines were recorded as generating just 20MW. The real figure was probably around 40MW Ė the equivalent of just 20 turbines at full capacity Ė powering fewer than 30,000 homes.

Winds dropped again after Christmas"


Maybe you have better reports. I doubt it.

Nick G said at January 26, 2011 10:59 AM:


The source for that article appears to be the "Renewable Energy Foundation", which is an obvious anti-wind organization: if you look at their website, they do nothing but criticize renewable energy and the importance of climate change!

Again, advocacy pieces like these can be useful for raising questions and possible problems, but not for answering those questions or providing the information we need to really evaluate those problems.

You might want to look for the source data, for both wind output and overall UK electrical generation, and analyze it over a period of time for size, frequency and duration of "output gaps". You could also go to the websites of pro-wind organizations. They are obviously not detached sources, but they can at least provide an opposite point of view which you can then integrate with the claims of the "anti's".

Bruce said at January 26, 2011 11:04 AM:

Nick, I would gladly read a "Press Release" or "advocacy piece" that claims that a Wind Turbine Farm met or exceeded its promised output for 1 whole year.

Couldn't find one.

If such a thing happened, don't you think the Wind Lobby might have mentioned it?

Nick G said at January 26, 2011 2:27 PM:

A quick google found this:

"Ngong wind farm has generated a total of 8.9GWh of energy during the first six months of commercial operation starting from August 2009 and continues to register better production than previously anticipated.

The wind farm has consistently recorded monthly production above 1.5GWh since October 2009 and this trend is expected to be maintained up to the month of May 2010. Overall annual production may far exceed expected production of 14.9GWh.

This improved production is largely attributed to impressive wind flow pattern experienced over the period as well as the availability of good quality grid. Most turbines have continued to record impressive load factors. Some have recorded monthly load factors of up to 69%. Overall wind factors above 50% have been recorded since November 2009.

Cumulative percentage wind farm load factor has steadily increased from a low of 33% in September 2009 to a high of 45% at the end of January 2010. This improving trend in the overall wind farm performance as shown below.

Overall annual cumulative load factor for the wind farm is expected to lie between 40% and 45% depending upon the availability of individual turbines."


I've seen quite a few other examples over time in places like Texas, though the topic is a bit obscure, so it might take a little time to find them.

Really, go to sites like awea.org, and you'll get plenty of pro-wind info.

Bruce said at January 26, 2011 8:20 PM:

Well, that means 6 small Wind Turbines are working. Possibly. Kenya is not the place I would expect honesty and openness about government projects.


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