Heart of the Scorpion

Jun 15, 2015

Antares in Scorpius
Credit earthsky.org

  This is “Looking UP! in southern Colorado,” from the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society. I’m Hal Bidlack, and there are lots of reasons to look up!

Did you know that there is a time bomb waiting to go off in the night sky right now? And it’s a big one – the supergiant star Antares! 

Antares is one of the few stars in the southern Colorado sky that clearly has a color other than white. It shines with a deep red color in the east about an hour after sunset, below the brighter object in the area, the planet Saturn. In fact, its red color gave it its name – Antares is Greek for “rival of Mars,” the red planet.

And Antares is much more than a tiny spot of red light. It is actually a binary system; meaning is made up of two stars. The smaller of the two, Antares B, is 10 times more massive than our sun and is about 150 times brighter. Normally, that would be impressive. But the main star, Antares A, is a red supergiant star. How big is it? If it swap places with our own sun, the surface of Antares would be past the orbit of the planet Mars. Antares pumps out more than 60,000 times the energy of our own sun.

Antares is a relatively young star. It’s a baby. But, it’s a baby that’s growing old very quickly and with a bad attitude. It is burning through its nuclear fuel at an astounding rate compared to our sun and most “regular” stars. As a result, Antares is rapidly approaching the end of its lifetime. At some point very soon, astronomically speaking, Antares will collapse, crushing its core under unbelievable pressure until it explodes in one of the most violent events in the universe – a supernova. When Antares explodes it will briefly outshine the combined light of all 200 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy. And it could happen tonight! Or tomorrow night. Or some night in the next million years or so. Better keep looking up!

If you’d like to take a closer look at Antares or any of the other wonderful and amazing things in the sky, please visit KRCC.org or CSASTRO.org for a link to information on our monthly meetings and our free public star parties! 

This is Hal Bidlack for the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society, telling you to keep looking up, Southern Colorado!