Feeds

Zaphod Beeblebrox home sun 'shrinking', may have blown up

Improbable events in vicinity of Betelgeuse

Intelligent flash storage arrays

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 fact, already have exploded.

Betelgeuse, before it shrank, was thought by astro boffins to be so large that if it were placed in the middle of our solar system, Jupiter - out beyond the asteroid belt in reality - would lie inside it. Now it has shrunk by a distance equal to the orbital radius of Venus.

"To see this change is very striking," said Charles Townes, UC Berkeley emeritus physics prof and Nobel Prize winner. "We will be watching it carefully over the next few years to see if it will keep contracting or will go back up in size."

The huge star, one of the brightest in the sky, is thought to lie about 430 light years from our solar system, so the changes being observed now actually occurred in 1579 AD. Many boffins believe that Betelgeuse is so vast that it's liable to go supernova - that is, blow up with stupendous, galaxy-shaking force - within a millennium or so. Indeed, it might already have exploded at some point in the last 430 years, in which case the flash wouldn't yet have reached us.

"We do not know why the star is shrinking," says Edward Wishnow of US Berkeley's space sciences lab. "Considering all that we know about galaxies and the distant universe, there are still lots of things we don't know about stars, including what happens as red giants near the ends of their lives."

The name Betelgeuse, like many names of important stars, is derived from Arabic - Arabian civilisation having done much of the early astronomy carried out on Earth. Its underlying Arabic phrase has been translated variously into English, with most sources agreeing that the name is meant to refer to the star's position within the figure of Orion the Hunter - "the central one", to the old time stargazers. Indeed, it's also known as Alpha Orionis.

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 it's certainly true that the star is located in the region more of the figurative Orion's shoulder than his actual arm or hand.

Much more famously, Betelgeuse - specifically the notional planet Betelgeuse V - was said to be the home world of two-headed, three-armed renegade Galactic President Zaphod Beeblebrox and his childhood friend and 'semi-cousin' Ford Prefect, in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy stories by Douglas Adams.

Fans will be hoping that the recent shrinkage of Zaphod's sun doesn't mean that, in fact, his homeworld was destroyed hundreds of years before Earth's abrupt demolition to allow construction of a hyperspace bypass. ®

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
GRAV WAVE DRAMA: 'Big Bang echo' may have been grit on the scanner – boffins
Exit Planet Dust on faster-than-light expansion of universe
SpaceX Dragon cargo truck flies 3D printer to ISS: Clawdown in 3, 2...
Craft berths at space station with supplies, experiments, toys
That glass of water you just drank? It was OLDER than the SUN
One MEELLION years older. Some of it anyway
NASA rover Curiosity drills HOLE in MARS 'GOLF COURSE'
Joins 'traffic light' and perfect stony sphere on the Red Planet
Big dinosaur wowed females with its ENORMOUS HOOTER
That's right, Doris, I've got biggest snout in the prehistoric world
Japanese volcano eruption reportedly leaves 31 people presumed dead
Hopes fade of finding survivors on Mount Ontake
Relive the death of Earth over and over again in Extinction Game
Apocalypse now, and tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that ...
prev story

Whitepapers

A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.