OH NOES! The Sky Iz Fawling!
I read it on the internet, so it must be true.
That's right. The world is coming to an end, so say your prayers and kiss your butt goodbye.
A nearby star is going to explode in 2012, lighting up the sky like nothing in history. It is just as the Mayan calendar predicted. The end times are nearly here. Fire and brimstone shall be cast upon us by vile aliens as the Earth is immolated just like the prophesies of old so clearly indicated. Why, oh why didn't we listen?
Because it's pure crap. That's why.
Okay. For the sarcasm impaired, heres the rundown.
On Thursday, news.com.au posted a fluff story that claimed that Betelgeuse, one of the brighter stars in the sky, is about to explode and light up the Earth like a second sun. While the story was based (loosely) on scientific observations, an actual astronomer, Phil Plait, cringed at the painful inaccuracy of the information, as well as Claire Connelly's reference to 2012, the latest in a long line of years that people desperate for attention have chosen for a timely end for the Earth, or the lion's share of its inhabitants, or whatever line of hooey they choose to believe this week.
On a side note, back when goofballs were predicting that the world would end in the year 2000, why didn't these people jump in and say "Oh, no it's not, you fools, it's not ending until 2012!" I don't remember hearing that.
To set the record straight, some types of stars do go supernova at some point, and Betelgeuse is one of those stars, and it should provide an amazing light show for the Earth for a week or so, like no star we've ever seen, but it could happen next year or tens of thousands of years from now. Also, the giant star is much, much too far away to cause 24-hour tanning. Think more along the lines of your neigbor's annoying porch light.
Relax, Chicken Little. Earth is in no danger from Betelgeuse, and it's highly unlikely to go foom in your lifetime.
Read Phil Plait's response on his Bad Astronomy blog.