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I wrote one of the first Armageddon-science articles, entitled “20 Ways the World Could End,” which was published for the 20th anniversary of this magazine, and followed it with a sequel a decade later.
Still, even if you assume that an explosion could happen randomly any time within that period (which will probably overstate the near-term probability), the odds of Betelgeuse exploding in your lifetime are less than 0.1%.
Then again, if Betelgeuse is closer to 15 times the mass of the Sun, as implied by a few other studies, and if it is rotating slowly, then it could take a million years or more to go supernova.
Fortunately (or unfortunately, if you are hoping for some really exciting destruction), our Sun will not, can not ever explode as a supernova. No nearby star is a supernova candidate either–not surprising, since stars massive enough to go supernova are few and far between.
The closest likely candidates are two bright red stars that are both prominent in the sky, and that are both coincidentally rather similar in distance: Antares in the constellation Scorpius and Betelgeuse in Orion.
undoubtedly helped raise its profile as well.) When it explodes, it could reach a brightness in our sky of about magnitude -11.
That’s about as bright as the Moon on a typical night, bright enough to cast dramatic shadows, bright enough to see clearly in the middle of the day.
What the Betelgeuse-scare stories often gloss over is that “nearby” and “soon” are relative terms.
The way astronomers use them is quite different from the way we use those words in everyday conversation.
That’s about 150 times as far away as Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system.
Even at the low end of the distance estimates, Betelgeuse is too far away to do significant damage to Earth.