back to article Zaphod Beeblebrox home sun 'shrinking', may have blown up

The red giant star Betelgeuse in the constellation Orion - famed as the home sun of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy characters Zaphod Beeblebrox and Ford Prefect - is shrinking rapidly. Astronomers say that it has shrunk by 15 per cent since 1993, by which they mean that it actually did so in the mid 16th century. It may, in …


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  1. Sander van der Wal

    We're in luck...

    Apparently a supernova explosion at such a short distance is capable of wreaking such havoc on Earth that climate change would be the least of our problems. The main culprit would be the gamma-ray blast. Fortunately the blast won't be pointing towards us (

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    cor please blow up in my lifetime

    its close enough to watch !!!!

    ac for fearof the douglas fans ....

    RIP dNA

  3. Anonymous Coward

    Bye bye Betelgeuse

    Blimey, I thought climate change was having far reaching effects, but this?

  4. Duncan

    Belgium, man! Belgium!

    Type your comment here — plain text only, no HTML

  5. David Hough

    It's the economy

    We're obviously not the only ones suffering from deflation.

  6. Anonymous Coward

    Supernova, run for the hills

    run, run, run *now.* The world's going to end, and all that.

  7. fishman


    I think of Beetlejuice when I see the word Betelgeuse

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Hey, Earth Apes

    My shoulder? My hand? What? Everyone who's anyone knows it's my very, very lovely Presidential pelvis. I would also like to point out that it is not shrinking. I've never been hipper. Phreow. Get with it, you monkeys.

    Who's the hot chick?

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And in other news from the western spiral arm ...

    "Some say that "Betelgeuse" refers in fact to Orion's "hand" or "arm". However an awful lot of people go with "armpit of the Central One"

    And here's my Ode To A Small Lump Of Green Putty I Found In My Armpit One Midsummer Morning ....


    Grunthos The Flatulent

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Is it...

    ...the great collapsing hrung incident on the way?

  11. Daniel 1

    Just as well it's going to be a Type 2 supernova, then

    I understand the explosion of a Type 1a, at such proximity, would probably cause a mass extinction (indeed, some speculate that at least one global extinction event in the past may have been caused by a supernova going off, near by). As it is, this is just going to be one hell of a bright light.

  12. scottboy
    Paris Hilton

    Run for the hills?

    Run for the mines more likely.

    Paris, because she knows when it's a good idea to go down.

  13. Steven 12

    It'll be so nice to see...

    ....except for the fact there's another article on The Register telling me I can't see it from my present location no matter how hard I try.

    Hopefully the bright light will get through the (ahem) cancer causing light pollution!

  14. kingkane

    Err...isn't this kinda close to us?

    I mean I'm not expert but a few hundred light years is quite close astronomically speaking and it is possible for the radiological effects of a supernova to be felt over quite long distances.

  15. Torben Mogensen

    Alpha Orionis

    This nomenclature is fairly modern. All stars in a given constellation are names in order of apparent magnitude, so Alpha Orionis is, simply, the brightest star in Orion, Beta Orionis (also known as Rigel) is the second-brightest, and so on.

  16. Rainy Rat

    But how's it pronounced?

    I've heard both "beetle-juice" and "bettle-guise". Any astronomy geeks care to weigh in?

  17. Anonymous Coward

    Cosmic neighbours?

    So Zaphod and Ford live next door to Kodos and Kang?

  18. jai


    ...i for one welcome our froody overlord-dudes who always know were their towels are

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    For all of those panicking about a nearby supernova

    you have a slightly more pressing task at hand to deal with first, namely extending your own lifespan for another 300 years or so. Away you go!

  20. Napoleon

    Missing Matter in Orion ?

    Tsss. once again Zaphod is obviously the main culprit for such blatantly iresponsible robbery ...

    Anyway talking about harm pit with a two headed three arms guy can be tricky ...

    mine the one with the little book and the Sub-Etha Sense-O-Matic ...

  21. Ed Blackshaw Silver badge

    @Rainy Rat




    ...oh crap.

  22. Anonymous Coward


    According to Patrick Moore it's 'BETel-gurz'.

    He is getting on a bit now, mind you.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    A replacement star....

    ...could presumably be sorted out by Slartibartfast and his friends on Magrathea, couldn't it?

    If not there were some very similar people in Robert Sheckley's "Dimension of Miracles". I forget their names, but they did make their own atoms, using micro-centifuges to spin up electrons before firing them towards atomic nuclei to be captured. When asked if they made the sub-atomic particles, the response was "Oh no, we buy those in from contractors, never could be bothered with all of that piddling small stuff!"

  24. John Angelico

    Time to relocate to...

    Stavomula Beta, then?

    Yes, the duffle coat, thanks

  25. Marc Savage

    You can't trust an astrnomer...

    They do stupid things like demote pluto from planet status for stupid reasons.

    If they say it one ways its because the rest of us have made jokes about it.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    wot, no 2000AD references?

    Zaphod isn't the only luminary to have been left homeless by this...

  27. This post has been deleted by its author

  28. Richard 102

    Um, yeah

    The best news is, if it does go supernova and cause mass extinction, the green weenies and Brazilian president will be too dead to attribute all this to American industrialization and evil blue eyed white guys in New York City.

  29. Glyn Smith

    @Brian Morrison

    Sorry to be a pedant (weeeell, technically that's a lie...)

    Ol' Slartibartfast and his Magrathean chums made palnets, and not stars.

    Although, they may be branching out into another niche market.

    And I, for one, welcome our white hole matter gobbling mice overlords

  30. TeeCee Gold badge

    When it goes, I won't be able to see it.

    It's these Joo Janta Super Peril-Sensitive sunglasses that I bought.

  31. Tom 13

    @Rainy hat

    Sure, I'll weigh in. The answer in my experience is 'yes' and I know that was supposed to be an either or question.

  32. Tom 13

    @Torben Mogensen

    And your comment raises what to my mind at least is the more interesting question. Betelgeuse is as bright as it is currently because it is a fairly hot supergiant. After the supernova, the reduction in both size and temperature are likely to radically reduce its luminosity. So will it remain Alpha Orionis because it was designated that at the time of it's discovery, or do we reorganize the names of all the stars in the constellation?

  33. Justin White

    Betelgeuse replacement?

    So, since it's obvious that a mistake is at the root of the impending Betelgeuse supernova, can anyone from Interspatial Engineering confirm the readiness of Betelgeuse, mark II?

    Mines the one labeled "Mostly Harmless".

  34. Steve Mann


    I bet one of the astronomers let Betelgeuse go through the wash in his or her pants pocket.

  35. Duckorange

    Quaequam Blag!

    This is clearly Tharg the Mighty winding up a Rigellian Hotshot, as ane fule kno.

  36. Daniel 1

    In any case, hadly 'Galaxy shaking'

    It's 20 times heavier than the sun. It's hardly going to "shake a galaxy" when it goes. It'll be a typical type 2 burnout. Shining at several times the brightness of the full moon for maybe a week or two.

    Type 2s blow off their surface layers when they go, and it is those surface layers that absorb the radiation from the explosion and produce the visible light. You, me, the air you breathe and everything in your imediate vicinity - all of this matter was createdd during a process just such as this, when some unknown star, or stars, exploded long in the past. Type 2s are the creators of worlds, not their destroyers.

    Technically, no supernova could ever directly cause a mass extinction, anyway. Even a Gamma ray burst from a 1a would only blow off the planet's ozone layer on the exposed hemisphere: it would be your own star that then slowly irradiated all the life on the affected half of the planet during the days that followed. If you happened to have the good fortune to be on the shadow side from the burst, you'd probably retain enough ozone above you to survive until the ozone across the afflicted side had replenished itself.

    No, sorry: the Brazilians are right. It's the greedy blue-eyed white bastards that will probably be the death of us, not some distant star.

  37. Ed Blackshaw Silver badge

    @Steve Mann

    If he or she had done that, the rest of Orion would now also be a washed out pinkish colour too.

  38. Ed Blackshaw Silver badge

    @Daniel 1

    Good points, but to put my pedant hat on, only those elements heavier than iron and nickel are typically created during R-nucleosynthesis in a supernova. 'You, me, the air you breathe and everything in your imediate vicinity' are all things that are typically composed of light elements -e.g. hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, sulphur, etc., which are created once a star moves off the main sequence and becomes a red giant.

  39. Steve Mann

    4 Ed Blackshaw

    But we wouldn't see that for about 430 years or so. If it wasn't for the pesky vacuum of deep space we might have heard it rattling around in the drum during the rinse cycle.

  40. Blitheringeejit


    >>Type 2s are the creators of worlds, not their destroyers.

    Er - I think that depends on the the space-time coordinates of the worlds in question...?

  41. Paul Young

    Why can't they...

    Just go and buy a new star, piece of cake.

    They sell bags of them at Tesco, not too much £1.69 I think

    Then get someone to stick it back up on the Blue/Black wrapper around Earth

    All this talk of a universe, anyone would think there was something more important than my computer.


  42. Christos Georgiou

    Re: Cosmic neighbours

    "So Zaphod and Ford live next door to Kodos and Kang?"

    As much as Zaphod and Ford live "next door" to Tom & Jerry. It's a further 250 to 450 lightyears to Rigel.

  43. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    we should be safe

    Its over 400 light years away.

    Now if it was say 8 light years away, then all we'd see is a huge purple flash in the sky caused by the gamma radiation interacting with the air followed by a mass extinction event

    Closer than 4 light years and the lucky ones would be on the side of the planet facing the supernova... because they'd die in about 5 seconds while the unlucky merely wait their turn to be roasted as the earth revolves..........

    But 400 odd light years..... be a nice glow in the sky you could see in the day and brighter than the moon during the night.

    Aliens... because they've already seen it....

  44. Jeff 10

    I'm sure the Creationists will be all over this...

    ... 'cause it's the end of the world as we know it. Always looking for ways to force fit science with myth.

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Blitheringeejit

    Err, I think Daniel was generally referring to "worlds" that were to develop after the supernova. Obviously.

  46. Anonymous Coward


    Oddly, the Register comment system doesn't allow a title consisting solely of "42". What a shame.

  47. Dick Emery

    Borag Thung Earthlings!

    I Tharg the mighty can assure that Betelguese has not imploded (yet). Indeed I am gaining a healthy green tan as I sit here eating polystyrene cups and reading the latest edition of 2000AD.

  48. Trev 2

    Italian Job connection?

    Personally I suspect this was more related to the activities of one Zaphod Beeblebrox who in the process of trying to "relieve" the planet of some valuable asset or other maybe went a little over the top and did his version of the infamous Michael Kane line "You're only supposed to blow the ruddy doors off...!".

    Or it was a giant bouncy castle...

  49. LaeMi Qian

    Just popped in... 56 LY out from BJ. Quite a pretty show. Planning to go back next year to 57 LY out and see it again.


    its "variable" star that increases or decreases intensity....

    sometimes brighter than rigal, this star has been fluxuating for long, long time. So spakthe BEn. drashek m&m. d.

  51. robbie 2
    Dead Vulture

    End of the recession blues then...

    While I'd like to share the cheery optimism of the majority, I'll be heading for the bottom of a big hole for Betelgeuse's demise.

    Dunno what I'll do after that though.

    Gravestone, because ...

  52. Garret Cotter


    Feel free to choose an orthogonal pronunciation :) I know one theorist who works on it and called Alpha Ori for years without even being able to point at it in the sky. As Feynman said, there's a difference between knowing something, and knowing the name of something.

    Consensus among the stellar astrophysics experts I've talked to (I'm an AGN person myself) is that its not likely to go bang for a while yet (10^4-10^5 years), it's still a bit too red on the standard evolutionary tracks. Probably this is just an envelope pulsation (details of which we don't understand!) Even if something weird were going on it really ought to start oscillating pretty erratically before the explosion.

    As has been said it'll be a relatively modest Type II, the light won't hurt us, and the shock/cosmic rays will probably be pretty dilute by the time they get here much much later. Yes too light to be a GRB by current models (incidentally Ia's don't give GRB's, similary too light/not enough spin, they deflagrate away) and as I think someone linked, its not pole-on anyway. I'd put my money on Eta Carinae instead.

    YMMV, this is science, all predictions are subject to uncertainties. If it does go pop tomorrow we'll have a nice light show!

  53. Mark Donnison


    Increased UFO sightings, ever more cunning and numerous crop circle designs, a nearby exploding star (Betelgeuse) and we apparently don't taste like chicken but like pork. And we all know that bread doesn't travel well, even in the best tupperware containers, it's never been about the minerals or water, they only ever wanted our wheat.

    This can only mean one thing, am I the only one that can see the truth?

    In one last coordinated effort, every wheat field on earth is hit by a unified pattern so beguiling that all of humanity is drawn out into the fields to marvel at their splendour.

    The giant, flour producing factory space ship, HO VI 5 moves into position behind the earth, lest any stray microwaves sneak through their shields deactivating their yeast stocks, it’s a real shit when that happens I can tell you. On it's final, hyperspeed, orbit before tucking in behind the earth it beams every ear of corn onto its conveyor belts. HO VI 5 grinds onto action, creating billions of small white bread buns, no sesame seeds tho' it's too risky as if there is one we know about aliens it's they are all allergic to nuts. Anything that looks like it might be nuts scares them.

    At exactly that point the earth is blasted by interstellar Microwaves, cooking us slowly from the inside out. Every last, tasty, one of us cooked to perfection and easily harvestable, the cooked wheat stalks we lie in infusing us with their flavour and finishing off the cooking for that real, cooked outdoors, authentic flavour. We know how disappointing things taste at BBQ's that have been solely micro waved, to avoid poisoning the guests.

    As this is a once in a universe event, they come from far and wide to taste our 'long pork' BBQ flavour.

    A giant spinning, black, obelisk has been dropped in our solar system, at the centre of mars orbit, to which mars will be tethered. While the adults digest us and talk bollocks around the, still glowing remains of the earth, the children will be playing planetary swing ball long into the evening.

    Although mankind and its home ceases to be on that fateful but ultimately filling day, we will enter forever into the histories of all space travelling civilisations as one tasty bunch o' bastards.

    I've seen future and the future is so bright that you may as well forget the shades.

  54. Antony Shepherd
    Thumb Down


    Has this got anything to do with the Great Collapsing Hrung disaster of Betelgeuse VII?

  55. Astarte

    Thumbs Up

    I just checked my electronic thumb in case any constructor fleets are in the area but its battery's flat. Has anyone got any spares - just in case?

  56. scub

    Who is this God person anyway?

    I always wondered,

    What would happen to us if sol was to disappear suddenly say?

    what would happen to our orbit? How long would it take for changes to take affect?

    i.e. the for of gravity that keeps us in order was to disappear, how long before we would lose orbit and considering nothing travels faster than light, how come?

  57. spider from mars


    you're on the right track in that gravity "travels" at the speed of light, so for 8 1/2 minutes (roughly) we wouldn't notice anything diffrerent. Then all the bodies in the solar system would fly off in different directions. Of course all the planets are still gravitationally interacting: the trajectories wouldn't be straight lines as the planets swung around each other. I haven't done the maths, but I suspect none of the relavive velocities are low enough for them to end up gravitationally bound.

    As a rough esitmate, life on earth's surface might last a week. Longer for deep sea and hydrothermal vent critters - the ocean stores a hell of a lot of heat, but it would ice over very quickly. After that the atmosphere would start to liquify and the earth would end up a frozen slushball with occasional vulcanism.

  58. Tony Paulazzo

    A bit late

    but goddamn astronomers. I wanna see an exploding star, like right NOW!

  59. Gianni Straniero

    @scub && spider from Mars

    The question was recently answered in New Scientist's Last Word column, which you can read here:

  60. scotchbonnet

    @Jeff 10

    Rather than creationists, I think you're probably thinking of the apocalyptists, who I'm sure will see grim portent in the proximity of 2012 with respect to this news.


    I'm hoping the flash shows up on 21 December, 2012, just to set the tongues a-waggin'.

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