Saturday, January 22, 2011

Goodbye Orion.

In the northern UK, we see the constellation Orion in its entirety in winter. It is one of the few we can consistently identify, along with Cassiopea (the 'Big 'W') and Ursus Major (the 'Great Bear' or the 'Big Dipper') Both can be used to find the Pole Star, Polaris, and there was a time, not so long ago but before widespread computer use, when we were taught how to do this in school.

The top left star, Betelgeuse, has entered popular imagination through the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and the spooky-fun film 'Beetlejuice'. Not everyone knows how to find it but there are few who can say they have never heard the name.

Betelgeuse is an old star, a red giant, and is close to its own personal boom-day. When it goes it is likely to produce a supernova bright enough to be seen by day. There is nothing to fear in this, the star is 650 light years away so we won't get much in the way of dangerous radiation or debris coming our way. We will get an awful lot of visible light though.

Astronomers say it might happen as soon as next year. What they are actually saying is that they think it might have happened 649 years ago and the light will arrive next year. Then again, it might not happen for a long time yet. It's not easy to be sure with these things.

Part of me hopes it goes nova during my lifetime. I'd like to see that. Another part of me would prefer not to see the end of Orion. It's one of the easiest constellations to identify.

It's an important one, because the three stars of the belt point to the rising of the sun, three days after its apparent demise at the winter solstice. These three, known as the 'three kings' in many cultures, are the three kings that follow the rebirth of the Sun.

I'm not going to get into that now. I just hope to see a supernova and simultaneously hope it doesn't wreck one of the most easily-found constellations for those of us who are not astronomers.

A supernova in Canis Minor would be better. I can never find that one anyway.

3 comments:

Southern Writer said...

That will be so cool! I wonder what the astrological influence will be for the children born during that short time period!

Romulus Crowe said...

It would be worth seeing, for sure. Pity it has to mess up Orion though.

Is there an astrological formula for dealing with supernovae? They've happend a few times over the thousands of years of astrology so maybe someone has factored in their effect?

Southern Writer said...

The astrological formula for dealing with supernovae would be the same as for any other astral object. Betelgeuse is located at 29 Gemini, so we'd start there. I don't know of any astrological work centered on the phenomena of supernovae, but it doesn't mean there is none, only that I don't know of it.

I can pretty much guess, however, that if anyone does get around to interpreting it, that it won't be a pretty picture simply because of the connotation associated with the name, and God help us (pun intended) should it appear on June 6.

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