The supergiant star Betelgeuse has a vast plume of gas almost as large as our Solar System and a gigantic bubble boiling on its surface, shown in this artist's impression.ESO/L.Calcada
The first direct image of a star other than the Sun, made with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. Called Alpha Orionis, or Betelgeuse, it is a red supergiant star marking the shoulder of the winter constellation Orion the Hunter (diagram at right).Andrea Dupree (Harvard-Smithsonian CfA), Ronald Gilliland
The super-giant red star Betelgeuse in Orion’s nebula is predicted to cataclysmically explode, and the impending supernova may even reach Earth -- someday.
But will it happen by 2012, as recent news reports suggest? Probably not, experts told FoxNews.com. While the second biggest star in the universe is strangely losing mass -- and has already become a red giant, meaning it is destined to explode and become a supernova -- there's no reason to believe that it will happen anytime soon.
"The story is pretty 'Hollywoody,'" said New Jersey Institute of Technology professor Philip R. Goode. In reality, the stars eventual explosion is inevitable, but no one knows when it will happen, he explained -- 2012 is pure conjecture.
"Betelgeuse is a red supergiant and should supernova at some time. When? Who knows?" he told FoxNews.com.
Phil Plait, an astronomer who writes for Discovery News, agrees that someday, Betelgeuse will go gangbusters. But it’s way too far away to hurt us, he explained.
"A supernova has to be no farther than about 25 light years away to be able to fry us with light or anything else, and Betelgeuse is 25 times that distance," Plait wrote on his blog The Bad Astronomer.
The story was fueled by Australian news site News.com.au -- also owned by FoxNews.com parent company News Corp. -- which predicted that a giant explosion will occur, tens of millions of times brighter than the sun, and suggested the event was imminent. And the gist of the story is accurate: Betelgeuse will blow, in an explosion that will be visible from Earth, though it won't be so bright as to appear like a "second sun."
“This old star is running out of fuel in its center,” Carter told News.com.au. “This fuel keeps Betelgeuse shining and supported. When this fuel runs out the star will literally collapse in upon itself and it will do so very quickly.”
“It goes bang, it explodes, it lights up -- we’ll have incredible brightness for a brief period of time for a couple of weeks and then over the coming months it begins to fade and then eventually it will be very hard to see at all.”
When Betelgeuse does blow, it will definitely be visible, Goode confirmed.
"One could roughly expect it to be as bright as a full moon and gradually fade away over a few months. Everyone on Earth would notice and be talking about it," he told FoxNews.com. Goode also noted that, due to the time required for light from the star to reach Earth, the event would be old history by the time we could see it.
"Betelgeuse is several hundred light years away, so if it were to light up the sky in 2012 it would have exploded in the Middle Ages," he said.
The news reports of Betelgeuse's imminent demise are nevertheless fueling Internet rumors and doomsday theories by confounding the impending supernova with the Mayan calendar’s end in 2012 -- which some believe is a prediction of the end of the world.
But again, there's no reason to think Betelgeuse will blow in 2012, Plait explains -- or even this millennium.
"It’s hard to know just when a star will explode when you’re on the outside. Betelgeuse might go up tonight, or it might not be for 100,000 years. We’re just not sure," Plait explained.
Goode agreed. "If you want to bet on it, it's better to try the lottery," he said.