This may be old news to some of you, but a few days ago, I discovered the Slooh Space Camera while searching out information about the new nova in the constellation Delphinus.
I’m not a scientist — just a geek. This got me really excited. Slooh webcasts live videos of astronomical events and then posts them on YouTube, where you can subscribe to their channel. The latest is a cool video of the sun’s current activity as its magnetic poles reverse, and the video before that is about Nova Delphini 2013.
It’s the first nova visible to the naked eye in years. Last I checked, it was up to magnitude 4.4, which makes it easily visible among the dimmer stars in a dark sky (unfortunately, the light pollution from cities will hide it), and it’s near the summer triangle (Deneb-Vega-Altair, closer to Altair) so it’s high in the sky in the northern hemisphere.
I thought I saw an article that there’s a supernova going on right now in a Messier catalog galaxy (M83? M84?), but maybe I dreamed that. Supernovae are really interesting. (I was going to say they’re really cool — but no, they’re not. They’re hot. Really hot.) Betelgeuse, for example, is thought to be near the end of its life and will end in a supernova.
But “near the end of its life” is relative when talking about a lifespan measured in millions of years. Betelgeuse, a red supergiant with 950 times the radius of our sun located about 643 light years away in the constellation Orion, could explode tomorrow. Or it could explode in 100,000 years. We just don’t know. Some people think its supernova will become as bright as a full moon and last for as much as a year. But at least that’s far enough away that it shouldn’t cause major harm to Earth’s biosphere.
The largest star in our galaxy, CY Canis Majoris, is also thought to be near the end of its life. That star is a hypergiant half again as big as Betelgeuse (by some estimates — others think it’s two to two and half times as big, which is just mind-blowingly more huge than a size that’s already mind-blowing). That means if the smaller estimate is right, if you plopped it in our own solar system, it would reach a little way past the orbit of Jupiter. If the more liberal size estimate is correct, it would reach all the way to Saturn.
Some astronomers theorize CY Canis Majoris will end in a hypernova, blowing itself to bits in an explosion 100 times more energetic than a supernova, and what’s left will collapse into a black hole. Fortunately, it’s ~3,840 light years away (by some estimates, more like 4,900 light years away), so the deadly radiation it will spew when it explodes won’t sterilize our solar system the way it will the systems of stars unfortunate enough to be within 100 light years of it. It’s far enough away from us, by any estimate, that it won’t affect Earth at all.
It just goes to show, thuogh, that the universe really isn’t a safe place.