Betelgeuse exploding next year? Don't bet on it

Posted by Emma Woollacott

The more gullible amongst us - or just possibly the better-prepared - are rushing out to buy sunglasses in the belief that the Earth is shortly to have 'two suns'.

Last week, Brad Carter, senior lecturer of physics at the University of Southern Queensland, told Australian website news.com.au that Betelgeuse - the eighth-brightest star in the sky - is likely to go nova 'soon'.

When it does, the explosion will be so bright that it will light up the sky like a second sun, albeit one that blazes for only a few weeks.

Carter said that there were signs that the star, some 640 light years from Earth, is losing mass, indicating that it's on track to collapse into either a black hole or a neutrino star - most likely the former, he says, because of its high mass.

"This is the final hurrah for the star," said Carter. "It goes bang, it explodes, it lights up - we’ll have incredible brightness for a brief period of time for a couple of weeks and then over the coming months it begins to fade and then eventually it will be very hard to see at all."

The revelation has lit up the internet. A YouTube video suggests:  "Scientists predict that it will explode THIS YEAR! And that the earth will have SECOND SUN! Rumors say that it could be Nibiru [a supposed planet with which we're apparently going to collide next year], and i think that makes sense because of people who knows more than MEDIA is telling us.."

Unfortunately, it's just not true. When an astronomer uses the word 'soon', he doesn't mean next Wednesday; and while it's perfectly possible that Betelgeuse could explode today, tomorrow, or in 2012, it's just as likely not to happen for another million years. Put it this way, you'd get good odds at the bookies.

And anyone holed up in the mountains with a supply of tinned food could be waiting for quite a while.