Once it exhausts the fuel in its core, Betelgeuse will go supernova, becoming brighter than the full moon for several weeks and easily visible during the day.
It's been my habit, since I learned of this, to occasionally cross my fingers that Betelgeuse lights up at the close end of astronomers' estimates (any day now) rather than the far one (a million years in the future). But earlier this week, while glancing over my shoulder at the faintly scarlet star, it occurred to me how selfish this wish was.
Since Betelgeuse is only about ten million years old, it hasn't had time to develop any advanced life on whatever planets might orbit it. And it's too far away to pose any danger to Earth. So at a glance, its death seems to be a guaranteed spectacle for us and no threat to anyone.
But there could be dozens or hundreds (or even thousands) of other solar systems within lethal range of the radiation Betelgeuse will emit when it explodes, and as a result, I can't be certain that in wishing for its death, I'm not also wishing for the deaths of billions or trillions of living people on planets we will never know of.
That's rather a high price for me to receive a pretty light show.
So from now on, when out for my jog, I intend to look up at that bright star, red and gleaming, and hope that it does not enliven the night anytime soon. Or that if it does, any civilizations within its danger zone have found a means to protect themselves from its nuclear fury.
In the meantime, I can be pleased to know that its brightness and crimson hue tell me about a star so large it would reach almost to Jupiter if placed where our own sun sits. A titan living fast and enormously, blasting out energy on a scale ordinary mortals cannot imagine.
That's a beautiful sight too, and does no one any harm.