09 January 2020, The Tablet

Betelgeuse – a fading star

Across the Universe

Betelgeuse – a fading star

Like most stargazers, I count Betelgeuse as one of my favourite stars. The name alone (yes, it is pronounced “beetle-juice”) is enough to delight the small child in me. It’s also spectacular to learn about: a red giant star, so puffed out that if our Sun were placed inside it, Earth and even Mars would be orbiting inside the star.

It’s easy to find in January’s skies. Look south for Orion: the three bright stars in a row, his “belt”, enclosed by a box of four bright stars. The most brilliant of those four, Rigel, is at Orion’s left (our right) foot; Betelgeuse is the one at his right shoulder, almost as bright as Rigel, with an unmistakable red colour. Both of those are “first magnitude” stars, among the 20 brightest stars to be seen anywhere in the sky. The other two stars of the box (Bellatrix, at his left shoulder, and Saiph, his right foot) are, like the belt stars, only a bit dimmer: “second magnitude” stars.

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