SOMETHING IS HAPPENING TO ORION THE HUNTER
I’m eager to write a second article about Orion, now well-placed above the south-south-east horizon in February. Its most famous star, Betelgeuse, is becoming dimmer. According to astronomer Nadia Drake, “The red star Betelgeuse is the dimmest seen in years, prompting some speculation that the star is about to explode.” (National Geographic website, Dec. 26, 2019)
It has been known for some time that Beetle-Juice, as most of us call it, is in its last stage-of-life. It is an enormous, bloated, red super-giant star. It is understood that it is running out of nuclear fuel, and that when it’s all gone, the star will collapse in on itself.
And then, WOW! The friction of all those atoms banging into each other will create intense heat; the star will explode, releasing unbelievable energy. We will see it as bright as a full moon, lasting for weeks. Then it will gradually fade away, and nothing will remain except a black hole, which will remain invisible.
But, unfortunately, the star that has represented the right shoulder of Orion will have forever disappeared from sight. Importantly, the earth will not be harmed in any way.
My suggestion to you, the viewer, is to check out Orion, now prominent in the southern sky, as often as you can. If you see the reddish star at the upper left, then Beetle-juice has not yet exploded. (Science cannot predict exactly when it will explode.)
If it appears as a super-super bright object, then the star will have exploded.
The reason the earth will not be affected by the gamma rays and x-rays ejected by the supernova is that Beetle-juice is incredibly distant. An accepted estimate is that it is about 400 light-years distant. That represents a huge separation from our Solar System.
Light, including its gamma rays and x-rays, travels at 186,000 miles per second, so one light year is 5,870,000,000,000 miles or 5,87 x 10 to the 12th power in length. That is too far for earth to be affected. In addition, Earth is protected by its magnetic field which surrounds it.
It’s exciting to describe one more fabulous object in Orion. It’s called “The Great Orion Nebula,” but that’s too weak a label. It’s a huge, huge cloud of gas and dust located in the middle of Orion’s sword, which hangs from his glittering 3-star belt.
Locate the 3-star sword, down from the belt. But the middle star is not a star at all. It is “The Great Orion Nebula.” In this massively huge cloud, gravity has been pulling the gas and dust into stars. Four of these stars form the famous Trapezium, which on a clear night is barely visible in large binoculars. It is the light produced by the new stars in the Nebula that illuminates it.
It is about 1400 light years distant, making it about 3 ½ times the distance to Beetle-juice. Its diameter is 30 light years. Isn’t our Universe totally awesome? And each one of us is an important part of the Universe.
(Jim Lewis is a member of Stars Are Us Star Club. He notes that Nebula is Latin for “cloud.” The Great Orion Nebula has a catalogue designation of M42.)