What would happen if someone had a telescope and watched Betelgeuse when it goes supernova?

  • Would that person go blind?

    Neutrino detectors and the abundance of Neutrinos would detect the upcoming visible show about 3 hours before any visible signs, so there would be time to point certain telescopes that could handle the brightness towards it.

    I'm curious if an individual with a telescope pointed in that direction would have an unpleasant surprise. Would the scientific community be wise to not announce the massive stellar explosion until after it's visible to avoid potential negative effects from over-eager amateur astronomers.

    I realize this is a kind of silly question and it might depend too much on the telescope, but I'm curious.

    "**When** it goes ..." - It's 642.5 light years away, so it would need to have **already** gone supernova over 550 years ago ... But we know what you meant, and Mark's answer is OK, as is the other.

  • Mark Olson

    Mark Olson Correct answer

    3 years ago

    No, it would not be a problem. Supernovae are not at all like flashbulbs – they brighten over a period of many days and dim again even more slowly. Here are a number of different light curves taken from Wikipedia:
    Luminous output of different types of Supernovae

    The rise is fast on an astronomical scale – several orders of magnitude over a period of roughly ten days – but very slow on a human scale. An amateur looking at it would not notice any significant change in brightness, but if the same person came back a few hours later or the next night, the change would be very evident.

    As far as we can tell, the reason is that the light at peak brightness is caused by emissions from material blown off by the explosion. For example, in Type 1a SNe, most of the light is from the radioactive decay of the huge mass of ejected nickel-56 (half life 6 days).

    The Wikipedia article on supernovae is quite good and covers this all in more detail.

    This answer explains that the brightness increases gradually, but doesn't seem to answer the question as to whether or not a person watching Betelgeuse would go blind (unless we count "no, it would not be a problem" as the answer).

    Note that the OP asked if there'd be an "unpleasant surprise" -- the answer is, "No, there would be no surprise." You would not be blinded unless you really wanted to be. Obviously if you stare into a bright enough light with a big enough telescope for a long enough time you can blind yourself in one eye -- you'd have to do it all over again with the other, of course. I don't feel that constitutes a "surprise."

    @JBentley It's not fast enough and it's not bright enough to blind you.

    @Mark Olson : Yep. OP is almost surely imagining it being like a camera flashbulb (or perhaps, a nuke?) "suddenly" going off and you are looking into said flashbulb with your telescope. But it's not.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM