Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Something Else To Worry About

In what scientists are describing as the biggest supernova in modern times, a giant star 240 million light years from Earth has exploded. While plenty of supernova have been witnessed before, this one is unusual in that SN 2006gy was such a huge star. That distinction is apparently responsible for some of the unusual characteristics of this stellar event.

One astronomer describes it as "a truly monstrous explosion, a hundred times more energetic than a typical supernova." And while most nova fade quickly, this one has remained bright since last September. Also, most massive stars normally implode on themselves and end up as black holes. SN 2006gy, however, ended its lifespan by spewing matter and energy into space.

Still, as far as stars exploding in a self-destructive cataclysm, it's hard to top Britney Spears shaving her head.

But another reason this has grabbed the attention of astronomers is because there is another, very similar, star much closer to Earth. Located only 7500 light years from us, Eta Carinae has been showing signs of similar instability since 1843. Should this baby explode in a similar manner, it would be the most spectacular stellar exhibition ever witnessed by mankind. It would even be visible in daytime, and at night it would provide enough light for people to read by.

But a similar end to Eta Carinae could also potentially endanger Earth. That's because of the massive amounts of gamma given off by these types of events. That radiation, however, tends to be concentrated in narrow "jets," so the odds of our solar system being in the path of one of those bursts is minimal.... But not zero.

It is unclear if President Bush plans to respond to the threat with a preventative strike.

0 thoughtful ramblings: