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Oh My God, We're All Gonna Die!

— Filed under: Science & Technology
Betelgeuse art ESO

Image via Wikipedia

Or not, depending on who you talk to. The latest buzz is that Betelgeuse, a red supergiant and the ninth brightest star in the sky, is about to go supernova in the next few weeks or months. Apparently the panic originated from a forum posting, which claimed to have firsthand information from an astronomer in Mauna Kea. Although not predicting immediate annihilation for Earth, the author postulated that the bright explosion would cause 24-hour daylight and might destroy crops. That posting has been elaborated upon here, and debunked here.

It seems as though every few months we're subjected to warnings of some new disaster that threatens to destroy us. We're told that swine flu could kill hundreds of millions around the globe. We're warned that global warming will melt the polar ice caps and raise the sea levels much sooner than anticipated, wreaking havoc worldwide. We're shown via Hollywood that the world will end in 2012. The world didn't end as predicted in 2000, but it certainly went a little crazy as programmers raced to fix "the millennium bug". And apparently we're under constant threat from unknown and untracked asteroids which could demolish the Earth at any moment.

Why are we so captivated with catastrophe? People throughout history have predicted apocalypse and the end of the world. In some ways, it almost seems as if we're hoping for it. Many of the comments in the Discover blog mentioned above seemed disappointed and almost sad that Betelgeuse wasn't due to explode soon. So what is the reason for our strange obsession with doomsday?

@lantis's picture

People believe in what they fear to be true

It is true!! We could all be annihilated any day of any week. There are thousands of events that "could" happen at any moment which none of us would survive. Luckily for us it really doesn't happen all that often and there is no real reason to fear it. These kinds of rumors are spread because people deep inside know how fragile our existence really is. We haven't been around on this world all that long and maybe we will not be around for that much longer. Not really something to worry about though, when it's over, it's over.

PenyuSepi's picture

This kind of fear pulls us closer.

Ahaha, who are we kidding? We thrive on this stuff. Why do we watch disaster films where all the strangers or enemies suddenly find themselves in mortal peril, and miraculously end up working together to survive? I think our obsession with disaster has less to do with a terror addiction, and more to do with an honest, kind of beautiful longing to be closer to everyone. If we knew the world was going to end, or something almost as terrible was about to happen, everyone on earth would suddenly have this common fate. And despite the chaos, it would bring a lot of people together, and make us cherish each additional second we are alive with a lot stronger feeling than we do on a typical day. Unless you feel like your life is constantly in grave danger, in which case you might not notice a change.

“An immense amount of pettiness is dropped if your death makes a gesture to you.” - Don Juan

Dutton and Aron's (1974) famous experiment suggested that when faced with circumstances that cause us fear, we are more likely to be compelled to love someone, (or at least to think we do). They sent a bunch of individual men out to greet an 'attractive' woman who asked them to do a survey, and then gave them her number. One group met the woman in a comfortable location, and the other group met her out in the middle of a rope bridge of questionable safeness over a gorge. 60% of the rope bridge guys thought they were enticed enough to call her back, versus only 30% of the comfortable subjects. Most of the study was focused on sexual attraction, but I would add that it probably goes well beyond that, and fear makes most of us want to cling to someone. Emotionally, not just physically.

Not to mention that if the world were about to end, everyone toiling for retirement could flip off their boss and run away to frolic in the tropics. We wonder why half the population seems to be longing for an apocalypse.

timedesign's picture

well said.

well said.

WoodyBlanker's picture


PenyuSepi wrote:
Not to mention that if the world were about to end, everyone toiling for retirement could flip off their boss and run away to frolic in the tropics. We wonder why half the population seems to be longing for an apocalypse.

Wait... so the world's NOT going to end? Uh oh.... better start working on my apology to the boss...

The_elusive_STEALTH's picture

The greatest thing that will happen to us

If Betelgeuse does go super nova i think we will all be very lucky to witness it. In fact i get quite excited thinking about the end of the world. In terms of time and catastrophic events that happen on our planet. The earth is roughly 3.5 billion years old, if you put that into perspective the dinosaurs were made extinct yesterday. These events happen all the time. And i hope i am lucky enough to be apart of one. the human race is doomed anyway. Please don't get me wrong i love being alive.

timedesign's picture

yeah it is pretty good

yeah it is pretty good sometimeS. although, admittedly i don't have much experience of not being alive. but rest assured, as soon as i have time to compare the two, i'll be putting my musings RIGHT HERE!

The_elusive_STEALTH's picture

What if aliens

What if the aliens from Betelgeuse realize they are f@#ed cause their sun is dying and they are gonna head here because they know through being way more advanced than us that earth is the closest planet with a habitat to support them. Obviously they can travel at faster than light speed by opening wormholes etc. WOW! That would be AWESOME!

timedesign's picture

lovely picture, that.

lovely picture, that.

timedesign's picture

according to bill bryson...

in a brief history of everything the evolution of conscious beings on earth is partly due to a remarkable window of tranquility in terms of getting blasted by bits of space rock. Any planet our size regularly gets smacked and we're well overdue.

at least that's what i think he was saying... i'm incredibly hungover.

MrShaw's picture


Whoops double post!

MrShaw's picture

We are still alive!! And Bill Bryson is boring.

Turns out that nobody knows when Betelguise will turn Supernova (there is a lesson in there, but I doubt it will be grasped).  For the record, Bill Bryson is a pox on the face of travel writing.  Anyone who finds it fascinating that you can travel 8 stops on the London Underground, and only travel 500 metres across London should get himself to The Redback Pub in Acton on a Friday night.  That's life Bill, but not as you know it.

The best bit is this, if Betelguise goes supernova then we won't see it for 600 years, and if it has already, and its going to wipe us out with no warning at all  perhaps sticking your head between your legs and kissing your anus goodbye every morning would be prudent.  Or not.

There are plenty of intelligent arguments to be found on this subject, most of the starting with "We just don't know" and containing the phrase "the error factor is anywhere between 100 and 1000 years".  Hope you didn't put a bet on.

Winston Smith's picture

Speed of light

MrShaw wrote:
The best bit is this, if Betelguise goes supernova then we won't see it for 600 years

Yeah, but isn't the argument that it could have already gone supernova, and we just don't know it?  I.e. it went supernova 599.9 years ago, and the light is just reaching us now, so to us it would appear to go supernova suddenly?  I don't know.  Then again if it was going to destroy the Earth, the "destruction" would probably travel faster than the speed of light... or is that even possible?

MrShaw's picture

If you would like too see a star going Supernova..

SN1987A went bang a wee while back, and this link has captured it in all its 3D glory for the first time. It looks a bit like a rather fancy cup (please note that the end of the video is a artists impression). I would also highly recommend listening to Black Moth Super Rainbow's "Born On A Day The Sun Didn't Rise" at the same time, as the video has no sound.  An accidental discovery that put a big grin on my face.

MrShaw's picture

There is another Earth out there, but its about to go bang.

I found this link on the BBC site about CW Leonis, which is a massive dying star, and is currently surrounded by a giant water  and carbon clouds, the two most important ingredients in the formation of life.  As you can imagine the scientists are getting rather hot and bothered about it.

timedesign's picture

Thanks man, interesting

Thanks man, interesting story.

MrShaw's picture

Black Hole assumptions may be wrong

This BBC article challenges the previous beliefs on how Black Holes are formed.  it includes a very interesting video which shows a journey through a star cluster, and a further video giving an explanation of a light year.

Winston Smith's picture


Magnetic forces are fascinating to me. It seems as though they're the key to the next generation of high-speed space travel (rockets are so last decade). It's essentially the same as gravity, isn't it? Or am I mistaken?

Magnetar would make an awesome username/nick.