Supernova Betelgeuse?

Keep an Eye on Betelgeuse
by John Hlynialuk

Next to the Big Bang that started the whole shebang, the most energetic event in the universe is a stellar explosion called a supernova. The most colossal of the several types of supernovas involve giant stars, so the explosion (a Type II supernova) is even more awesome than it might be otherwise. The amount of energy released is totally unimaginable, -in a month or so the equivalent of all the energy released during the entire lifetime of our Sun! It is just another way that the Universe can kill us. (Spoiler alert: we are far enough away from any star that could go boom and our Sun is a pretty ordinary star not prone to explode.)

Betelgeuse is one of a few stars big enough to show a disk to Earth-based telescopes
(the big ones anyway)
Betelgeuse imaged in ultraviolet light by the Hubble Space Telescope and subsequently enhanced by NASA.
The bright white spot is likely one of this star’s poles. Image via NASA/ESA.

When a really massive star goes supernova, for a time it can outshine its entire home galaxy of several billion stars and be seen from billions of light years away. Astronomers detect over a hundred supernova per year on average from the billions of galaxies that exist outside our own Milky Way. Within our home galaxy, we see only one or two per century but there would be some hidden on the other side of the dusty central area, so there is no way to give an accurate estimate, -one every 50 years is a lower limit.

This a composite color image of the Herschel PACS 70, 100, 160 micron-wavelength images of Betelgeuse.
Credit: ESA/Herschel/PACS/L. Decin et a

Planets orbiting these exploding stars and even objects within about 50 light years of the supernova can be “affected” (meaning destroyed) by the explosion. The intense shock wave and extremely energetic pulse of X-rays can disrupt neighbouring stars and strip off the atmospheres of planets around them or just plainly vaporize them if they are too close. Luckily for us there are no supernova candidate stars close enough to our solar system, so death by supernova is less likely than death by comet or asteroid and even those odds are smaller than death by car accident. There is very good evidence that dinosaurs and many other species on Earth were snuffed out by a comet about 65 million years ago, so these are the time scales we are talking about, long by human lifetime standards, but pretty short in the 13.5 billion year lifetime of our universe.

Thankfully, there are no pre-supernova stars within the 50 light-year distance from Earth, but go farther afield, about 10 times farther and we find one very likely candidate for a spectacular explosion, the star Betelgeuse in the constellation Orion. It may happen a million years from now or perhaps tomorrow, astronomers have statistics, but no specific dates. But they are pretty certain that it will go off before a million years go by.

The star Betelgeuse (pronounced “beetle juice” ) is easy to find in the evening sky in February and later in the spring as well. Orion, the Hunter, as a constellation is recognizable by his Belt, a line of three evenly spaced, equally bright stars in the centre of a rectangle of similarly bright stars. Betelgeuse is the one in the upper left corner and has a slightly reddish tinge associated with its red giant status. Compare it to the star Rigel at the lower right corner which is a little whiter, even a bit blue. The diagrams below from Sky Safari 5 show Orion as it would appear above the southeastern horizon at 7 pm EST presently and then at some point in the future with SN Betelgeuse.

Orion Feb pm

Sky Safari 5 Orion as it appears now (above) and with SN Betelgeuse (below)


Should Betelgeuse explode “tomorrow” keep in mind that the event actually happened over 400 years ago (the current best guess for distance to Betelgeuse is 430 light years) since the light from the supernova would have had to travel from the star to us. Rest assured that we are at a safe distance regardless.

Still, it would be a pretty spectacular sight! Betelgeuse the supernova, shining at its peak would, for several weeks or even months, be the brightest object in the night sky, -perhaps as bright as the full Moon, and visible even in the daytime. Astronomers, both professional and amateur are especially excited about a Betelgeuse supernova since we would have a ring-side seat at the most spectacular phenomenon in the universe! Thank goodness we are far enough away to safely watch the show!

Local Eclipsers Snowed Out!

Most of Ontario and much of eastern Canada saw no lunar eclipse Jan 31 due to poor weather. However, NASA TV did broadcast the eclipse from 4 sites, and only one, the Institute for Astronomy in Hawaii was clouded out. Griffith Observatory near Los Angeles and Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards AFB as well as the Mt Lemmon Observatory north of Tucson AZ had clear conditions. NASA was able to supply high quality images from start to finish as the Moon set in the west around 7 am MST. Even in the most western locations in North America (except Alaska), the Moon set just after or a bit before the last bit of umbra had departed the face of the Moon.

The full Moon was visible through thin, quickly moving clouds for a time after moonrise in Owen Sound and climbed above the escarpment to the east of my location.


Composite image of Jan 30 full Moon only 12 hours before eclipse. Last time we saw it from Owen Sound was around midnight.
Canon 60Da with 100 mm lens (eff=160mm) ISO 3200 f/4.5 1/15 s (background) plus FM at 1/800 s at 6:18 pm EST (John H. Image)

But even then the clouds hid the moon for 20% of the time and by 9 pm, there was significant cloud cover. When I rose at 5:45 am to check the skies, there was a barely perceptible disk of moonlight and by 6 am, it was snowing in Owen Sound and the Moon was invisible. NASA TV to the rescue!

Images below from NASA TV were broadcast live and viewers got to see it from different locations (Griffith Observatory and Armstrong Flight Research Center near Los Angeles, Mt. Lemmon Observatory (N. of Tucson AZ) and the Institute for Astronomy in Hawaii. The latter location was clouded out. Here is a sampling of images.


The fully eclipse Moon was right next to the Beehive Cluster in the centre of Cancer at right. The original image was a screen capture of the NASA feed and was slightly enhanced in PS to bring out more stars in the cluster. Mt. Lemmon Observatory near Tucson AZ.

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This image was taken just before the inset of totality from Griffith Observatory north of Los Angeles.

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Another Griffith Observatory image around mid-totality.

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Totality is just over and the edge of the Earth’s umbra is starting to appear at lower left.

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Partial phase is underway after umbral eclipse ends in this image from Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edward’s AFB

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Partial is still underway as daylight approaches and the Moon sets below the western horizon at Edward’s AFB.

Griffith Observatory has put together a time-lapse video here: Griffith Time-Lapse

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At the risk of adding to the “super Moon” hype, allow me to point out that both full Moons in January are “super”. The Jan 1 full Moon is more super than the full Moon at month-end by a mere 2 429 km, but the full Moon on Jan 31 is also a so-called “blue” Moon. Adding to the hype, the Moon is supposed to turn “blood red” during a lunar eclipse that morning. So on Jan 31, we are due for a Super, Blue, Blood Red Moon! Sheesh.

The “blood red” label appears to be a relatively recent development, a result of two prophets of doom that thought four lunar eclipses in a row (ending with the Sep 27, 2015 eclipse) meant something special. It did not. The apocalypse did not happen in 2015, just like the other 20 times doomsday was predicted since Jan 1, 2000. By the way, there are three dates (so far) on which the world will end in 2018. I would watch out for the doomsday of May 20, a date supposedly guaranteed in the Bible (or your money back).

The Earth’s shadow in space has two parts, a dark circular core called the umbra, which is about 3 times the diameter of the Moon, and an invisible outer shadow called the penumbra which is even larger. It is only the umbra that we see progressing across the Moon during an eclipse, making it appear to go through its monthly cycle of phases in a just a few hours. See our website for a neat graphic depicting this.

Moon colour during lunar eclipses is caused by our atmosphere filtering out blue light the same way it does whenever the Moon or Sun are near the horizon. For any of the lunar eclipses I have seen, “blood red” would not be a colour description I would have used. I have seen “reddish-brown”, “orange”, “yellowish-orange”, and even “gray” the one time that volcanic ash in our atmosphere filtered out all the colour from the light getting to the Moon. That time, the eclipsed Moon was invisible to the naked eye and only just detectable in binoculars, appearing like a black hole among the stars. Furthermore, the central part of Earth’s shadow is darker so the Moon’s colour changes as the eclipse progresses. Colour-wise, no two lunar eclipses are ever exactly the same and hardly ever do we see “cherry” or “blood red” colours, -except after some Photoshop “enhancement” also known as “astro-fake-it-ography”.

The total lunar eclipse just before sunrise on Jan 31, 2018 will be visible all over the western hemisphere more or less. For us here in Bruce and Grey county, it will be less than more. Folks in the Prairie provinces get more, and those farther west in Calgary or Kelowna, for example, will see the entire event.

The hour-long passage of the full Moon through Earth’s shadow is the most interesting part of a lunar eclipse, but unfortunately this time, all of eastern Canada misses it. Locally, the Moon sets below our western horizon 10 minutes before totality begins and we will see only a bright “crescent” Moon with a bit of redness to the darkened portion like the image provided here of the Sep 27, 2015 lunar eclipse. Seeing conditions will have to be perfect to see anything like this and the Moon will be dimmed because sunrise is at the same time as moonset.


Sep 27 Total Lunar eclipse by John H. at prime focus (TeleVue NP101) eff.foc.len. = 864mm
Exposure 1/20 s at ISO 2000

For Bruce-Grey, the first umbral contact occurs at 6:48 am EST with the full Moon only 8 degrees above the western horizon (about the width of your out-stretched hand). A darkening at upper left should be noticeable by 6:45 am or so and it will progress across the Moon until the Moon sets at 7:44 am EST below our western horizon. For those in the Pacific Time Zone, totality starts at 4:52 am PST (7:52 EST), and lasts for 76 minutes until 6:08 PST. The eclipse ends when the last bit of the full Moon reappears by 7:11 am PST. You need to be west of the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border to see all of totality before the Moon sets.

The Bluewater Astronomical Society will make the best of the event locally with telescopes at a location with a good view to the western horizon. We will be scouting locations along the Lake Huron shore where snowbanks are manageable. Assuming weather co-operates, check our website as the time approaches for last-minute confirmation of viewing site. Fingers crossed for clear skies!

A DEC 3 Lunar and Two December Solar ISS transits

by John Hlynialuk

The website I use to determine the best viewing locations for ISS transits is It allows you to designate your home latitude and longitude and select a travel radius and range of dates (about a month ahead). I picked 140 km as a travel radius, and it give me the transits that are within a couple of hours driving distance from Owen Sound, ON. There is one lunar transit of the superMoon on Dec 3 and two solar transits in December as well, Dec 8 and Dec 12. Some details for those are provided below.

Dec 3:
lunar transit occurs across the Full Moon but the ISS is not illuminated this time so you have to be watching at the right time (10:11 pm EST ) for the passage of the ISS silhouette, Centreline of the transit is from just S. of Sauble Beach over Allenford and thence SE towards Keady, Markdale, Flesherton and eventually Toronto. (See second map below). This is a short transit of about 1 second silhouetted against the bright super full Moon) with the moon 48° above the western horizon. Time is Dec 3 at 10:11 pm EST. Check for the path in your area if you are outside of Bruce-Grey.

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Dec 8:
solar transit occurs in mid-afternoon at 2:33 pm EST and lasts about 3 seconds as well but the outline of ISS should be visible for the entire time. The Sun is just about in the same position in the sky as the lunar transit two weeks earlier. This time make sure you use solar filters on your telescope. This is the Sun you are looking at! Area of visibility is about the same coincidentally as the lunar transit of Nov 24, but centred over Hope Bay and Cape Croker. Howdenvale is well-placed.

Dec 8 solar

Dec 12:
solar transit occurs with a track of visibility farther south this time and visible Port Elgin to Big Bay. The Sun is a bit higher and the transit is fast -only 1,5 seconds. Be looking at 12:41 pm EST or so. Once again check out for exact times for your location. Once again, proper solar filters for your telescope are required.

Dec 12 solar PE

Not one, but TWO ISS lunar transits in mid-Nov.

by John Hlynialuk
Lately I have taken to observing ISS transits of the Sun and Moon. These occur much more often than solar transits of planets (which are only possible for Mercury and Venus, both of which I have seen). Of course, no planets can pass in front of the Moon (unless we get a stray asteroid or other object in transit) but the International Space Station does this on a regular basis.

So far I have spotted one lunar and one solar ISS transit (Oct 4 and Oct 9) and have reported on the former event in the
SGN issue for Nov 2017 (pg 5). Click to download a copy.

The website I use to determine the best viewing locations for ISS transits is It allows you to designate your home location latitude and longitude and select a travel radius and range of dates (about a month ahead). I picked 140 km as a travel radius, and it gave me 8 transits from Oct 30 to Nov 22, including the two described below.

The morning sky is the place for planet groups right now and will be until the end of 2017. Venus, Jupiter and Mars are located along the ecliptic over a span of about 30° and they are joined by the last crescent Moon in mid-Nov and mid-Dec. Check
COMING EVENTS and SKY SIGHTS on this website for details about some of the more interesting events.

The planets and Moon in the eastern sky before dawn are the backdrop for two interesting lunar transits by ISS that happen on the mornings of Nov 14 and Nov 15. The ISS (with a crew of 6 aboard) will be visible each morning crossing the sky from west to east. On Nov 14, around 5:56 am EST, look northwest and halfway up to the zenith. ISS will be bright that morning reaching -3.8 magnitude, -as bright as Venus! The heavens-above star map for the track of ISS is below:

Nov 14 ISS pass star map

ISS will appear as a very bright moving point of light crossing the sky from NW to SE and towards the crescent Moon above the south-eastern horizon. For most of us in Grey and Bruce, it will just miss the Moon, but if you are on the Cabot Head Rd about 4 km south of the lighthouse, you will see it pass right across the lunar crescent! (See the inset box on map below). The ground track of the ISS shadow is like an eclipse shadow with a specific width and path and is show shaded in blue on the Google map below. The only place it crosses land close to us on Nov 14 is across Cabot Head on the Bruce. The rest of the track is over Georgian Bay although it reaches land again in the Wyevale area and Horseshoe Valley. The location of the only observing spot for Bruce-Grey is shown below:

Nov 14 lunar 558pass

The pass of the ISS downwards across the crescent Moon will take about only 1.8 seconds and it will be illuminated so you will be able to follow it as it approaches the Moon quite easily.

A repeat of this happens again the next morning on Nov 15 at 5:08 am EST. This time a wider audience can get a view, and anyone from Miller Lake to Cape Croker will see it even though the lead up will be much shorter. This time ISS comes out of shadow just before it encounters the Moon, so look at the crescent at the appropriate time and the space station will appear right above it and slowly drop down to cross the Moon’s thin face. Those of you living in Lion’s Head can see it from home if you have a low enough eastern horizon where the Moon can be seen above the trees. (I suggest the Isthmus Bay Road which is where I will be set up if the weather allows).

Nov 15 ISS pass star map

Nov 15 wider view

The two maps from show the entire track across the Bruce (above) and a close up of the the track across Lion’s Head (below). Isthmus Bay Rd about 2 to 3 km from “city centre” is a good location to view since it has a nice clear horizon to the east where the crescent Moon will be rising. This pass lasts about 4.5 seconds which is close to the maximum that can occur. Lots of time to get a good look at the ISS! I suggest you fill the FoV of your scope with Moon and watch the action! And if you get some images please let us all have a look by posting them here. I guarantee HOME page coverage.

Nov 15 lunar pas 508