17 February 2015


Michael Keaton, as Beetlejuice, with Winona Ryder

I am a big fan of the film Beetlejuice and, like many films, its title has an origin story.

The name is a misspelling and mispronunciation of one of the sky’s most famous stars. The star is Betelgeuse and is often pronounced as “beetle juice” (which the film has certainly encouraged) but astronomers pronounce it as BET-el-jews.

The actual etymology of the star's name is a tangled one, but it certainly comes from Arabic origins, as do many other star names.

The star is sometimes described as "grandfatherly” because it appears in a reddish color to our eyes and that itself indicates that it is a star in its "autumn years."

By the way, I discovered that you can buy a copy of the Handbook For The Recently Deceased which is a book featured in the film.  It's a blank book, which is either a statement on the afterlife or a suggestion to write you own rules.

But back to Betelgeuse...

It is a rare red supergiant. So rare that it is said that there might be only one red supergiant star like Betelgeuse for every million or so stars in our Milky Way galaxy.  Red Antares is similar to Betelgeuse in that way.

This is a good time of year to look for Betelgeuse. It is part of the constellation Orion the Hunter. It is high in the night sky around 8 p.m. local time. As the night continues, and Earth turns eastward under the stars, Orion falls into the southwestern sky by late evening and then heads westward throughout the evening hours and finally plunges beneath the western horizon in the wee hours after midnight as Orion moves on his celestial hunt.

Betelgeuse forms Orion’s shoulder. You might also recognize some of Orion's other stars from films, TV and cultural references. Bellatrix is a star and an evil witching character from the Harry Potter novels and films.

The star Rigel has also been included in pop culture. Rigel-3 is a fictional planet in the Marvel Universe, homeland of the Rigellians. Rigel 4 is a fictional planet in The Simpsons , and Rigel 9 pops up in the lyrics of the opening theme music to Futurama: Into The Wild Green Yonder as a parody of Rigel 4.

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