I took a step outside last night. Granted, it’s the middle of winter here in Colorado, but last night was pleasant requiring only a jacket. I do this every night before bedtime. We let the dogs out before putting them to bed. If we don’t let them go out and do what dogs do, they wake us up in the middle of the night.
While they’re running about, sniffing this and doing that, I look up at the stars. Last night, I was looking at the constellation of Orion. One of its stars, Betelgeuse is dying.
Part of what Betelgeuse has done is to swell up as it dies. Our own sun will do this billions of years from now as it consumes the last of its hydrogen. Our sun will swell so much, it will probably consume Mercury, Venus, Earth, and possibly even Mars. After several hundred million years, having driven off most of its outer atmosphere, the sun will become what we call a white dwarf. A star no bigger than our own Earth. It will shine by the heat it still retains since there will be no more nuclear reactions to sustain it. After billions of years, even that will be gone, and the sun will be nothing but a cold dead cinder.
Our Sun will die with a whimper.
But not Betelgeuse. It will go out with a bang. Since it’s bigger and more massive than our sun, and is in the last legs of its life, it will explode into what we call a Supernova. For at least a little while, it may outshine all the stars in our galaxy put together.
Something extraordinary has been happening to Betelgeuse recently. It’s fading. Once, one of the brightest stars in the sky, it was ranked number 10, it has faded to around 23rd brightest, and is still fading. This is nothing too exciting since it does vary in brightness (it’s what we call a variable star). What is extraordinary is it’s never been seen to fade this much.
So of course, astronomers are excited. Does this mean it’s about to explode? We don’t know. We’ve never been in a position to see a star this close go through the process of exploding.
Will it explode? Yes, but it’s anybody’s guess when. It could happen anytime between now and the next 100,000 years. For all we know, it’s already exploded, but space is so big, it will take time for the light of that explosion to reach us. When it does, Betelgeuse may easily be as bright as the full moon and may last for weeks or months.
The heavens are a source of infinite fascination for my central character, Will Diaz. There’s few things he loves better than standing under a clear, star filled skies and just staring into the infinite.
This love for the heavens works its way into the stories on occasion. In Book One he talks about standing in the snow to look at a comet. In Two and Three he touches on the simple beauty of the heavens and how the sheer immensity of it all leaves him speechless. To him, looking up into the heavens is almost an act of reverence. He’s not a star worshipper, but it’s a constant reminder to him of the One who made it all.
The stars are a touchpoint in his life, and when he needs to talk to God, he often does it under the stars.