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A “star crash” in 2022…?

Ok, so this epic “star crash” predicted for 2022… sounds fascinating, and if it happens it will be a) very interesting to see, and b) a great success for the scientists making the predictions. But there is SO much hype about what it will look like! If you read some reports online it will be “dazzling”, or “blazing”, or “as bright as one of the brightest stars in the sky!” But if you take a moment to read the actual predictions, the astronomers are predicting a maximum magnitude of 2… which makes it as bright as Polaris… which is not really that bright at all (although many people think it is the brightest star in the sky) or one of the stars in The Big Dipper, which are all roughly around magnitude 2.

Now, that means that IF this star suddenly appears in Cygnus it will be very noticeable to astronomers and sky-watchers, who know the patterns the stars make up there so well they will instinctively realise that Cygnus looks… wrong… But non-astronomers will not have their gaze drawn to it, it won’t be bright enough to do that (although if it is a “red nova” as it’s being predicted that will help people spot it, because there aren’t any other red stars in that part of the sky). They’ll have to have it pointed out to them. But that’s ok… astronomical societies and individual astronomers will be able to use this as a great outreach opportunity, I think. And we have plenty of time to prepare! But it will be very important to manage expectations: we have to be stressing from now that this is only a possibility, a prediction, and making sure people don’t expect too much, i.e. they don’t believe the hype and expect to see a new Venus blazing in the sky. And it will be important, when 2022 rolls around, to help people see it if it appears, because it will be something very new and exciting – and handle their disappointment if it doesn’t.

I think we need to handle this very carefully. If you listen you can actually hear the ghosts of Comet Kohoutek and Comet ISON stirring out there in the dark depths, reminding us what happened with them when they promised so much but ultimately let us down. But we’re up to it, as a community, I’m sure!

Below – a couple of images I’ve made showing how the “red nova” MIGHT look if it appears as is being predicted. The background image is a Milky Way panorama taken at Kielder starcamp back in October, and I’ve added the nova in the **approximate** position where it could appear. I’ve made it about magnitude 2, as predictions are suggesting, and you can see it’s not going to be “blazing” or “dazzling” at all. Fascinating, yes. But not slap-across-the-face obvious.

Discuss by all means, but please note this is just a bit of fun, I’m not passing judgement on the prediction, or predicting this is exactly what we might see




4 Responses

  1. I read this last night and my first thoughts were “how can they possibly be sure of this?”

    I hope it happens because I think it would be very cool and awesome to witness and learn from. But I’m confused over how there can be any confidence in the accuracy of a prediction like this.

  2. If the +2(.0) mag. works out it will become, for months, the second-brightest star in a pretty obvious constellation which is easy to spot from the northern hemisphere during most of the year, and the reddish color should also be obvious and make it stand out there, at the edge if the Summer Triangle. Since the public will have been mighty prepped for what’s to come and especially so once the lightcurve has actually started to take off (the timing is the big unknown here), this will be the first astrophysics event prediction – i.e. one for beyond the solar system – ever that everyone can follow without any technical help come true. The impact on the public and its understanding of science – namely that it works, for heaven’s (!) sake, and makes correct predictions which no pseudo-science can – could and should be immense. Let’s do our best to make this happen!

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