For all the Cosmos fans in the Valley (and the rest of the world), we’re in for a treat! Astronomers have predicted that sometime during the next 50 years, a supernova will occur in the Milky Way galaxy that will be visible from Earth. While it may not be possible to tell which star will undergo this process, a star in our home galaxy will produce dazzling effects for astronomers and space enthusiasts.
What is a Supernova?
A supernova is a stellar explosion that briefly outshines an entire galaxy, radiating as much energy as the Sun or any ordinary star is expected to emit over its entire lifespan, before fading from view completely over the following weeks or months. It happens when a star has used up all of its fuel and its core collapses just before it violently explodes. When it does, a burst of radiation expels the mass that made up the star at very high speeds. It sends a shockwave into the surrounding space, sweeping up a shell of gas and dust called a supernova remnant.
These stellar events happen in our galaxy every hundred years or so, but they do put on a fantastic show. It’s somewhat difficult to say which neighboring star will be next, but there are several candidates. Betelgeuse (the star, not the character) is one of the most likely candidates. It’s a massive star located about 640 light-years from Earth in the Orion constellation. It’s one of the biggest and brightest stars in our neighborhood, 20 times larger than our sun, and is nearing the end of its life.
Since it is so close, some predict that the effect would be so bright, that the Earth would appear to have two suns for a while. At the same time, Betelgeuse is far enough away that the event will not cause any damage to our home planet.
Other News from Space.
The last recorded supernova (or pair of supernovas) were in the years 1502 and 1604. Two legendary astronomers, Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler studied these extensively. Since then, we’ve had very few shows like this.
This kind of event happens once in several lifetimes, and if it happens soon, we could have a front-row seat! For more facts on supernovae, go to www.space.com.