back to article BETHLEHEM-grade SUPERNOVA possible 'within 50 years'

Good news this week for relatively youthful watchers of the skies: top astronomers predict that within 50 years it's almost certain that a star in our galaxy will go supernova - that is, explode with stupendous violence - briefly creating a glowing beacon visible from one end of the Milky Way to another. There's a catch, of …


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  1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    Refinement for sure, and some nice modelling, but no shocking news

    We have known about the statistics of supernova explosions from watching similar galaxies to ours (spiral or barred spiral, not lenticular BTW) for a long time. I myself have seen half a dozen in the last three years in various "nearby" galaxies with my humble 8" scope (none discovered by me, I just watch the ones others have found), so the statistics that have been gathered with big scopes are pretty good. We know that a naked eye supernova is long overdue, but that does not alter the probabilities of having one going off now, or in the next few decades.

    The authors do provide nice estimates of the brightness distributions expected, however, I do not want to knock their work.

  2. Big_Ted
    IT Angle

    All the figures need to be modified unless they allowed for it being the other side of the galactic center and therefore invisible.

    Oh and lies damed lies and statistics to you all.

    1. Nigel 11

      The galaxy is reasonably transparent in infra-red, it's just visible observations that would be blocked. (And of course it's almost completely transparent to neutrinos and gravity waves ... read the article! )

      And if you realy want to boggle, google hypernova or pair-instability supernova. These are rarer events. It's hypothesized that a pair-production supernova is such an efficient converter of many suns' worth of mass into energy, that it would't leave any black-hole remnant.

  3. Isn't it obvious?


    Here I started reading the article hoping that someone had identified a few candidate stars on the cusp of going supernova (and explaining the new science that meant they could tell).

    It's just a statistical likelihood. Blah. There's been a statistical likelihood of an amazing comet display already in my lifetime, and I'm still waiting for that too.

    1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

      Re: Disappointing...

      I know what you mean, ISON might be nice, and even naked eye, in the coming months, but the COMET OF THE CENTURY (where is that blink attribute when you need it) claims initially made look way overblown.

      Hale-Bopp in 1996 was very nice however

    2. Nigel 11

      Re: Disappointing...

      Oh, we know the nearby stars that will go supernova within a cosmic eyeblink. Betelgeuse (the nearest) will go sometime in the next 100 kyears or so. Other giants further away look even more unstable.

      But a human lifetime is a tiny fraction of a cosmic eyeblink, and the exact timing of a supernova is probably not predictable to an accuracy of years (not until it passes the point of no return). The giant bloated star gets less and less stable, contracts, finds there's still something left to fuse, gets hotter, expands, wobbles on the edge like that for hundreds of kyears. Betelgeuse has contracted 15% since we've been able to observe its size (about a century). Maybe, just maybe, it really has run out of fuel this time!

      (Betelgeuse is just far enough away that it won't do serious damage to the Earth when it blows. Only just far enough. Halve the distance and there would be Consequences. Halve it again and we'd be staring at a near-future extinction-level event)

      (And spare a thought that if there is a $DEITY out there, maybe It is working really hard at making sure that there are no gamma-ray bursters popping in our direction in any "nearby" galaxies. If that is the case I'll thank It should I ever meet it, and I quite understand why It doesn't have any time for our smaller concerns! )

      1. Tomato42 Silver badge

        Re: Disappointing...

        @Nigel11: true, space is a really nasty place

    3. Wzrd1

      Re: Disappointing...

      "Here I started reading the article hoping that someone had identified a few candidate stars on the cusp of going supernova (and explaining the new science that meant they could tell)."

      Got massive heartburn over the same thing, then this:

      "That one outshone all the stars in the sky for a time, causing great excitement for eminent old-time astroboffin Johannes Kepler. "

      Erm, Sol was outshined?!


      This isn't horseshit on rye, served as a sandwich, it's bullshit on rye.

      A story that never should have been written, as it's already well established.

  4. Kalmairn


    A new reason for whackjobs to crawl out of the woodwork carrying signs telling us all to prepare for the second coming.

    I guess that also assumes they believe this science crap to begin with. They'll probably just wait until they can see it, then claim they knew all along.

    1. ian 22

      Re: YAY.

      Is it too early to speculate? I predict the supernova will lead us to the new Apple headquarters building where we will find something new and shiny. I further predict we will hand over all our gold, frankincense and myrrh for it.

      1. Wzrd1

        Re: YAY.

        "I further predict we will hand over all our gold, frankincense and myrrh for it."

        Do you want a laugh?

        I personally own all three. It's *so* not happening.

        Frankincense works to clear my head on bad days. Myrrh works to keep the wife happy, it smells nice (no clue, personally, I have no sense of smell beyond ammonia or pure alcohol or a few sparse other scents).

        The gold is pretty for my wife, so it also stays.

        But, I have a nice chunk of old lead pipe I'd happily deliver to the head of anyone wanting to deprive me of domestic tranquility. ;)

    2. MrDamage
      Paris Hilton

      Re: YAY.

      I normally have a drink of water, smoke a joint, and put on another condom to prepare for the second coming.

      <- Paris, cos she knows a thing or two about second comings.

  5. easyk

    IR future

    In the future everyone will have a microbolometer. They are so damn fun and useful I don't want to live in a world where they don't.

    Low res models from FLIR are now about $1000.

    1. Pookietoo

      Re: everyone will have a microbolometer

      Until they become more affordable I think I'll make do with an old digital camera and the IR mod.

    2. Wzrd1

      Re: IR future

      "Low res models from FLIR are now about $1000."

      Cool! Are you buying?

      (expletives are omitted for both brevity and politeness.)


  6. Scroticus Canis Silver badge

    Yeh but.....

    Will this one also wander across the middle eastern night sky like the new testament version? Wonder how that worked or maybe it something to do with "moving in mysterious ways".

    Hope it's not in our neighbourhood or the whole planet could end up as crispy critters

  7. Steve Crook

    Twilight Of Briareus

    That is all.

  8. Ellz

    Perhaps there was a being beamed down via the last closest supernovae explosion because their homeworld was falling apart.

    And he came here to save everyone. But we put him on some wood and staked him.

    ;sad face;

    1. Wzrd1


      Perhaps there was a being beamed down via the last closest supernovae explosion because their homeworld was falling apart.

      And he came here to save everyone. But we put him on some wood and staked him.

      ;sad face;"

      Perhaps eugenics wasn't so bad an idea!

      Fucking moron.

  9. Richard 31
    Paris Hilton

    Already happened!

    Given the size of the Milky Way and the likely distance of any star that will go supernova, it is more probable that the star has already gone supernova, but the light from it won't arrive until sometime in the next 50 years.

  10. JeffyPoooh Silver badge

    It'll be cloudy, overcast, and foggy that day

    It always is when there's anything going on in the sky.

    The weather in certain locations is occasionally predictable many hundreds of years into the future.

    1. Sarah Balfour

      Re: It'll be cloudy, overcast, and foggy that day

      Ain't that the feckin' TRUTH...?! I live in S. Bucks, and I've seen one meteor shower in about 15 years or so. I do recall the skies obliging for Hale-Bopp though, and even for the last total solar eclipse visible from the UK (when was that - about 10 years or so ago...?). Seen several lunar eclipses, but probably only cos they occur more frequently. It's fairly light-pollution free here but, obviously not as much as when I was back in the home territory (Yorkshire) and had access to The Moors; I WISH I'd had a 'scope and a decent camera back then, but I was skint (still am, even more so now).

      But meteor showers...? Not a single sausage. Or meteor.

      1. M Gale

        Re: It'll be cloudy, overcast, and foggy that day

        Damn shame, because that one that tore over the UK in March (and another one later in the year, that a friend of mine told me about) was truly apocalyptically awesome to watch.

        You just have to be looking in the right place during the right 20 second window.

  11. John Deeb

    No three & no kings

    From the article: " ... guided the Three Kings"

    There were three kinds of GIFTS in the original story (see any gospel translation) but not three kings. The account only mentions an unknown amount of "Magi" (wise men, pilgrims, astronomers?). Although the imaginary number and title became part of the church tradition and art representations, it has no actual base and is also not used in Cardinal Ratzinger's book to which the article referred in the same sentence.

    1. frank ly Silver badge

      Re: No three & no kings

      "Although the imaginary number ..."

      I'm sure that '3' is a real number and also an integer, but it is a little bit odd.

      1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

        Re: No three & no kings

        3 is odd indeed, in this case I would have expected the number to be perfect, so 6 or 28 would be more appropriate.

        1. Graham Dawson

          @john deeb Re: No three & no kings

          In hebrew thought 3 is one of several "perfect numbers", along with 7 and nine. I have forgotten why.

          Incidentally, the most likely candidate for the "star of Bethlehem" wasn't a star at all, but a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in the constellation of Pisces. A conjunction of the two was interpreted as the passing of leadership from an old king (Saturn) to a new (Jupiter), and a conjunction taking place in Pisces associated the events with Israel. Israel of the day was important to the Persians as a close ally, granting access to the Mediterranean coast and serving as a locus of trade routes between Africa, Europe and Asia, so their astrologers (the magi) would have been keen to see what events might take place there.

          In fact, in 7BC there was a triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in Pisces (that magic number again), which gives us a pretty firm date for when the events would have taken place. Herod the Great died in 4BC, which sets a boundary for the other end of the period in question.

          Israel of the day was also in a "great tumult" about whether the nation should strengthen its ties with their historical ally of Persia, or whether they should throw their lot in with the Romans. Herod was of course a Roman client and would have favoured them, but many in Israel favoured the Persians. It goes without saying that Herod's court would have been aware of the conjunction in 7BC, and it could just as easily have been interpreted as a validation of Herod's links to Rome or a harbinger of the restoration of Israel's links with Persia. When the magi came along and declared that a new king had been born in Israel, well, you can imagine what that would have done to the political situation.

          And then in the late 20s AD, when Israel has been informally occupied by Rome in order to "support" the government against the insurgent Persian faction, this man Jesus appears and starts talking about purifying the temple and fulfilling the laws of Moses and all sorts of things that echo the Maccabbean revolt against the Greeks of a few generations earlier. With Jesus having a fairly supportable claim to being the true "king of Israel", the political seeds planted by those magi start to bear fruit: Israel begins to resist the Roman occupation, only to be destroyed 30 years later when Rome decides it's had enough of rebellious client states and absorbs Israel into the empire properly.

          1. Sarah Balfour

            Re: @john deeb No three & no kings

            At the risk of being jumped-upon, can we start using 'BCE/CE', rather than 'BC/AD', as the latter does rather indicate some belief in the aforesaid events occurring and, as others have already said, the NT is really just as much a collection of allegories as the old.

            And, if I recall my RE lessons at my ultra-strict convent minor public school (to which I DESPISE my parents for sending me) correctly, isn't the actual birth (all the sold out B&Bs, mangers, donkeys, et al) only mentioned in one gospel (Matthew's if memory serves). Surely if there was any truth in it, at least one of the other 3 ought to have made at least a passing reference....?

            I know they were written decades, probably even centuries, apart but, surely an event so momentous ought to get at least ONE other mention...

            I'll sit - well lie - back and wait for the downvotes to come a-rolling in...

            1. Graham Dawson

              Re: @john deeb No three & no kings

              It's also mentioned in Luke. Each of the four gospels had different points to make and so epmhpasised different aspects of the story.

              The NT consists largely of letters between people, which can hardly be called allegorical (though they do make allegorical points at times). Textual analysis of the surviving copies (of which there are thousands for each) indicate that they were all written within a period of around 90 years. There's very little disagreement over this even amongst the most critical of bible critics. Where the disagreement lies is on the validity of their content and the accuracy of translation.

              But that's irrelevant to what I was discussing.

              Apart from the Magi, who can't be verified, everything I described is true. The triple conjunction, the political turmoil (and the potential links between the two), the existence of the man called Jesus, who called himself "bar Abbas" - the son of God - and his death, the rebellion against the occupying Romans, and the conquest of Israel in the mid 60s. All these things happened.

              This was to illustrate the point that the jesus story and the events leading to the end of Israel as a nation both began with that conjunction. It occurred at the right time, it had the right "meaning" for the people of that time, and the events that took place after it are all verifiable.

              You could call it a self-fulfilling prophecy if you want. That isn't the point either. I was simply trying to establish that the whole supernova idea is a crock, and that the language used in the text fits the appearance of a conjunction - and the events that took place in that area at that time - much more readily than any other phenomenon.

              1. macnz

                Re: @john deeb No three & no kings

                I remember someone else once suggesting a conjunction in 7BCE as the Bethlehem star and it being pretty heavily debunked. The two planets never got to more than 1 degree min distance from each other which isn't much of a conjunction I would have thought.

                Having said that, the only independent verification I can do is with Stellarium, so take this information as you will.

    2. Gav

      No three & no kings & no anything

      Given that the whole story is, at best, an allegory fable that co-opts a number of factual events, picking over minor errors in translation seems a bit pointless. It's all invented back-story written a long time after it was supposed to have happened.

      Yes, there was a survey that obliged people to travel. Yes, there may have been at around the same time, give or take a couple of hundred years, a super-nova. That's pretty much where the facts stop. All other event are impossible to demonstrate occurred, and many are extremely unlikely to have occurred.

      Super-nova, for a start, do not move about the sky and stop over stables. So what we're doing here is comparing something that may happen with something that didn't happen.

      1. Ed_UK

        Re: No three & no kings & no anything

        "Yes, there was a survey that obliged people to travel."

        No, they even made up that bit too, to make the story fit with Old Testament predictions. The census was a myth.

        Source: The Fabrication of Jesus Christ - Christopher Hitchens

  12. Eclectic Man

    Not too close

    I think Fred Hoyle wrote a short story about the Earth being too close to a local super-nova. I forget what it was called.

  13. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge

    The third time's the charm?

    "There's a still lower chance - just 5 per cent in the next half-century - of a proper, really bright visual supernova of the sort that appeared in 1604. "

    So that would have been the second coming.

    This would mean that this would signify the third coming...

    One has to ask ... does this mean that the third time is the charm, or three strikes and you're out?

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    May I be the first to quote...

    "Followed a star? Followed a bottle more like!"

  15. Graham Marsden

    All together now... "He's not the Messiah...

    "... He's a very naughty boy!"

  16. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    "That viewpoint has lately received authoritative backing from no less an authority than the Pope"

    With all due respect to His Emeritus Holiness, I'm not sure he counts as authoritative backing in this subject area. As far as I know, there is also the difficulty of no suitably-aged supernova remnant in the modern sky.

  17. Steve K Silver badge

    Ex-Pope surely?

    Didn't Ratzinger un-Pope himself (or was the reference to him writing this when he was


  18. Neoc

    " Pope. Benedict XVI, formerly aka Cardinal Ratzinger, advanced the idea that the Star of Bethlehem - which guided the Three Kings on their way to hand over their gold, frankincense and myrrh - was a supernova in a book about Jesus last year."

    Funny, I remember an A C Clarke story call "The Star", published back in 1955:

    Seems even Popes copy other peoples' work.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re. Betelgeuse

    The really neat thing is, in about a year the Japanese neutrino observatory built into a mountain will be completed so they can tell everyone where to point their telescopes in the short delay between the direct line of sight neutrinos and the rest of the visible, UV and gamma radiation filtering through the star's expanding outer layers.

    If A.Orionis (aka Betelgeuse) blows then we can expect to see a sudden spike in neutrinos, possibly dozens being detected by the SNO, Kamiokande etc and Icecube if it is online.

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