Good Fact #2: The Sun & Betelgeuse

Written by on June 22, 2010 in Good Fact Series with 0 Comments

If you recall my first Good Fact post you’ll remember that at 1:1,000,000,000th scale (one billionth) our Sun was likened to an enormous, blue ribbon, country fair contest winning Pumpkin, a diameter roughly 57 inches wide.

However, our Sun is fairly run-of-the-mill as far as stars go. It is classified as a Main Sequence Star or ‘Dwarf’ Star’, so it won’t be winning any blue ribbons in the Galactic Fair. But what does dwarf mean? does size really matter? Well, in this case it does and it serves us well, I will explain below.

There are benefits hanging around such a small and moderately sunny light source that is our friendly little Sun. The important one for us is it’s a little more stable than some of its larger companions. You see, the bigger a Star gets the shorter it’s life span and the more likely it will explode into a Supernova or turn into a Black hole. It’s all a question of mass.

Our Sun doesn’t have the mass to produce these events but before you get too comfortable be sure it will eventually die about 5 billion years from now. So don’t make any plans for the year 5,000,002,010.

How small is a ‘dwarf star’ anyway? Let’s compare it to a much larger variety to sense of it.

Amongst the clear and bright stars that make up the constellation Orion, sits a large reddish monster called Betelgeuse. Betelgeuse (bet’el juz) is a red supergiant star (RSG) that sits prominently on the shoulder or Orion.

Next time this winter constellation comes swooping around into your neck of the woods, go check it out. You’ll see with your own naked eye that something’s amiss with Betelgeuse. It flickers like a campfire very much unlike some of its steady companions nearby.

Betelgeuse is quite old and nearing the end of its life. This massive star throbs, wobbles and huffs plumes of gas around itself, displaying an instability that is a sure sign a Supernova is eminent. And when it goes supernova be prepared for the largest and brightest celestial event mankind would probably ever witness

But don’t worry… Betelgeuse is far enough away that you won’t be able to roast any marshmallows off it when it goes Supernova.

For this Simpli-Sized comparison we are going to my home country of Canada, where we will use the CN Tower in Toronto Ontario as our ‘one billionth scale’ yard stick.

If you remember at one billionth scale our Sun is 57 inches in diameter, only just fulfilling the height restrictions at most amusement park rides.

However, Betelgeuse in comparison is nearly 2.5 times the height of the CN Tower at this scale. Clearly a monster star in our Galaxy.

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