Even if you don’t know it by name, the red supergiant star Betelgeuse is one of the most familiar sights in the heavens above—a gleaming ruddy dot at the shoulder of the constellation Orion. Although already quite difficult to overlook, Betelgeuse has become even more eye-catching across the past few years because of major changes in its appearance—unexpected fluctuations in its brightness that remain poorly understood. In recent weeks, the star has at times shone more than 50 percent brighter than normal, drawing renewed attention from amateur sky watchers and professional astronomers alike. These individuals hopefully await a historic celestial event. Someday, you see, Betelgeuse will explosively end its life in a supernova—and from our planetary perch just 650 light-years away, we Earthlings will have front-row seats to this spectacular cosmic cataclysm.
But does the current bout of brightening presage Betelgeuse blowing its top? And what would such a nearby supernova look like?
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