In the Star Wars saga, George Lucas imagined a world where twin suns rose and fell in the horizon. Looks like his vision may not be so far-fetched.
Astrophysicists say that Betelgeuse, the red super-giant that is the ninth brightest star in the sky, is losing mass—an indication of gravitational collapse. Brad Carter, a senior lecturer of physics at the University of Southern Queensland, explained to news.com.au that the star is essentially running out of the fuel at its core. “This fuel keeps Betelgeuse shining and supported. When this fuel runs out the star will literally collapse in upon itself and it will do so very quickly,” he said. The subsequent explosion will appear tens of millions of times brighter than the sun, meaning 24-hours of light on Earth.
(More on Time.com: Voyager 1 Nears Edge of Solar System.)
“It goes bang, it explodes, it lights up,” Carter said. “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.”
And while the celestial event could take place before the end of 2012, it may not occur for a million years.
As you’d expect, plenty of folks interpret the impending supernova as a sign of the Apocalypse. (Coincidentally, the Mayan calendar predicts Armageddon in 2012, and the word “Betelgeuse” has strong associations with the devil.) But Carter dismisses the doomsayers, pointing out that the implosion will shower the earth with tiny particles called neutrinos that are absolutely harmless. “They will flood through the Earth and bizarrely enough, even though the supernova we see visually will light up the night sky, 99 per cent of the energy in the supernova is released in these particles that will come through our bodies and through the Earth with absolutely no harm whatsoever.” (via the Huffington Post)
(More on Time.Com: Spanish Woman Declares Ownership of the Sun.)