Astronomers are watching Betelgeuse with anticipation. Something is happening which could teach us about the universe.
In basic astronomy classes, students are exposed to what is known as the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram. It’s a graphic representation of our scientific understanding of stars. We can measure the changes that happen in stars and watch them age. The problem is that stars live so long and we live such a short time that we will never see a star be made, live its life and die. We see young stars which are blue hot and watch blue hot stars cool becoming yellow. We see yellow stars become red. We sometimes see red stars explode becoming novas or supernovas depending upon their size. In 1987 we watched a star explode and saw the production of new elements that had not been there before. But that explosion was so far away that measurements were difficult.
Located in Orion, Betelgeuse is one of the brightest and most recognized stars in the sky. Since it is only 700 light-years away, Betelgeuse is close enough for us to see and measure well. It is huge! In fact, it is so large that if it were located where our Sun is, the edge of it would extend to the orbit of Jupiter and its flares would go beyond the orbit of Neptune!
Watching Betelgeuse, astronomers can see that it is changing rapidly. It is only half as bright as it was five months ago. Because we have never seen a star explode up close, astronomers have an intense interest in what is happening to this nearby star. If Betelgeuse explodes, it will become a supernova. As we watch from Earth with our naked eyes, it would be as bright as our Moon. Watching God forge new elements in Betelgeuse would be quite a show, but it could happen as you read this or it may be 100,000 years in the future.
One of the many conditions necessary for life to exist on our planet is the location of our solar system and our neighbors in the cosmos. A star exploding close to us would bathe our planet in lethal radiation and even incinerate us. Don’t worry, because an object 700-light-years distant is not a threat to Earth. The closest star to us is 4.3 light-years away, and it is nowhere near the nova stage.
Our ignorance of this method of God’s creation is astounding. We can relate to the message of Job 38:31-33. There God mentions the constellation Orion where Betelgeuse is located when He says: “Can you bind the influences of the Pleiades or loose the bands of Orion? Can you bring forth Mazzaroth (the 12 constellations of the zodiac) in his season, or can you guide Arcturus and his sons? Do you know the ordinances of heaven? Can you set the position of them on the Earth?”
Even today with our technology the answer to those questions is “No.” Watching Betelgeuse, we can realize the truth that “the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalms 19:1).
— John N. Clayton © 2020