There's been a lot of news lately about Betelgeuse possibly exploding sooner than perhaps was expected. Some examples:

  • Guinan, Edward F.; Wasatonic, Richard J.; Calderwood, Thomas J. (8 December 2019). "ATel #13341 - The Fainting of the Nearby Red Supergiant Betelgeuse". The Astronomer's Telegram. Retrieved 27 December 2019. (Link)
  • Guinan, Edward F.; Wasatonic, Richard J.; Calderwood, Thomas J. (23 December 2019). "ATel #13365 - Updates on the "Fainting" of Betelgeuse". The Astronomer's Telegram. Retrieved 27 December 2019. (Link)

What would the effects on Earth be if Betelgeuse were to explode within our lifetimes?

Of course, this would be highly unlikely to happen during our lifetimes, but I'm curious what sorts of effects, if any, it might have on our planet (including our upper atmosphere). I imagine the effects would be measurable but negligible.

I'm looking for imaginative but scientifically-based answers.

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    $\begingroup$ There are a few questions about what would happen when Betelgeuse goes supernova but in terms of more specific observations, e.g. LIGO observations, or the apparent magnitude. Nevertheless, I don't think that they are precise duplicates of this one. $\endgroup$
    – user24157
    Commented Dec 29, 2019 at 22:50
  • $\begingroup$ This is an excellent question about planetary science as well as supernovae. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Dec 30, 2019 at 5:58

1 Answer 1


tl;dr - The main measurable effect may be minor climate cooling, but in day-to-day life, the only difference would be that we see a cool, bright explosion in the sky, and eventually, Orion becomes "incomplete".

The effects would likely be quite minimal. What Will Happen When Betelgeuse Goes Supernova? by Corey S. Powell, former editor in chief of Discover and reproduced from their Quora answer addresses this exact question quite well. The supernova itself would be quite bright in the sky for a while, and it would certainly be something we'd all want to get nice photos of before it goes away, but the actual "shock wave" would take much longer to reach us, and given the distance between us and Betelgeuse, it will have largely dissipated.

The article describes a period of climate cooling a couple million years ago which corresponds with evidence of a nearby supernova, but we have yet to establish a firm, causal link. As of now, we don't expect to really measure any effects, also partly since the shock wave from the supernova would take much longer to reach us than the light. So even if it we saw it go supernova in the next 20 seconds, we would not be able to observe the effects in our lifetimes.

As for our upper atmosphere, as you mentioned, the radiation and material from the supernova would not nearly be strong enough to do anything like destroy ozone (or as the article mentions, ionize the atmosphere), so I imagine the upper atmosphere would stay relatively the same (this assumes the lack of causal link between supernovae and climate cooling - if a link is established definitively, then perhaps that cooling could have some effect on the upper atmosphere - that goes more into meteorology and weather than astrophysics)

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    $\begingroup$ great answer, welcome to space! $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Dec 31, 2019 at 22:39

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