Doomsdayers and 2012 blog-keepers, take note. Astronomers at this week's American Astronomical Society meeting revealed that a massive white dwarf star in the throes of multiple nova is much closer to our solar system than once thought. When it does finally collapse into a type Ia supernova -- okay, if it collapses into a type Ia supernova -- the resulting thermonuclear blast will destroy life on earth. Seriously.
The star is part of a binary system of two stars -- a white dwarf that leaches mass off its sun-like neighbor -- called T Pyxidis, located in the southern part of the constellation Pyxis, also known as "The Compass Box." The system is known as a recurrent nova because it has been subjected to repeated novas over the last century, suffering (relatively) small thermonuclear explosions in 1890, 1902, 1920, 1944 and 1967, or nearly every twenty years.
It's now been over 40 years since that last nova in 1967, and meanwhile the white dwarf continues to swell, feeding off its neighbor. If it continues to swell, it could eventually reach the Chandrasekhar Limit, a critical mass at which point instantaneous gravitational collapse would occur causing a thermonuclear blast akin to 20 billion billion billion megatons of TNT.
Given that scientist have recently found that T Pyxidis is but 3,260 light-years away from us -- a neighbor by cosmic standards and much closer than previously thought -- that kind of epic explosion would not be good for the stellar neighborhood. The Gamma radiation that would reach Earth would be equivalent to 1,000 simultaneous solar flares bombarding the planet. The resulting production of nitrous oxides in the atmosphere would also completely destroy the ozone, at which point we can go ahead and say the planet would be uninhabitable.
But the fantastic scale of the cosmos that allows such massive, cataclysmic events to unravel also bears a silver lining for those of us on Earth (2012 believers, stop reading now). Though in terms of star life supernova is likely around the cosmic corner, it's estimated to happen many millions of earth years from now, a full 10 million years by some estimates. Suffice it to say that we're far enough from T Pyxidis that we can't really tell exactly how big it is or how quickly it's accreting mass. But the end of the world isn't coming tomorrow. Or even in two years.
i hope that in 1 million years, we'll have a pretty darn good Death Star so that any celestial-sized comets/asteroids/meteors/meteorites (whats the difference again?) of doom will pose no threat to us. I also hope that future Earthlings will have a solar-system-wide defense system in the works.
Because let's face it, our solar system is the best friggin system in the universe WHAT UP
We may want to rename our planet Krypton.
It amazes me how these people can predict the approximate time for these things to go off, if they messed up and it goes off several million years ahead of schedule, a flash of time on the scale of the history of a star, then what.
If a supernova went off within 100 light years from earth then you would barely be able to kiss yourself goodbye before it vaporizes most of the planet......
We really know 'almost' NOTHING!
Answer to: rlb2
Yes actually you would be able to kiss yourself goodbye, about a million times, since the explosion from a Supernova about 100 lightYEARS away would take around a hundred years before the effects of the explosion (traveling no faster than the speed of light offcourse) to reach us.
Hey, I'm not worried unless it went supernova 3,220 years ago. After that, by the time the wavefront gets here, I'll be gone or on the way of checking out...
jerseph, you forget that the light we are observing from a star X light years a way is X years old. if the supernova in this article exploded exactly 3,261 years ago, next year we would see the light from the explosion, and with it receive all the joyful life-ending radiation that comes with it.
so if a star went nova 100 light years away, you would still have no way of knowing that fact until it hit us. there would be absolutely no warning, and no chance to kiss yourself goodbye.
sorry - 3,259. i need some sleep :)
Yeah but he said that if a supernova went off in the vicinity of 100 lightyears from the earth you wouldnt be able to kiss your as goodbye, which is not accurate, since, regardless of whether we knew or not, when it goes off, there are still a hundred or so years 'til it would reach us. And there are probably a few signs to be expected BEFORE the full, earth consuming blow would hit us of what to expect.
Gah! I just registered to ask the question "wouldnt the effects of a supernova 100 lightyears away take 100 years to reach us?"
I should have listened in school when the teacher said "be sure to read the whole thing before you start writing.."
If something like high energy cosmic rays are traveling very close to the speed of light, some have been known to travel faster than light in certain circumstances, it's called Cerenkov radiation when it hits the atmosphere. So technically once it hits the atmosphere light travels slower than the high energy particle, cosmic ray.
Once it hits the atmosphere it's similar to the speed of sound, you could be shot dead from a bullet before you hear the sound of the gun going off. Note in this case the bullet is actually going faster than the speed of sound.
Some high energy cosmic rays from millions of light years away have been clocked as beeing only 1 to 2 seconds slower than visible light from that distance.
So in other words Iansull was right, 100 or 1,000 light years away means nothing in the time scale when something is moving that close to the speed of light because right now the only form of viewing it is light speed. It would be similar to a bullet traveling the same as the speed of sound, they both arrive at the same time...
What hasn't been mentioned here is that the estimated 10 million years is a very short time in astronomical or even geological terms.
Assuming that we never discover faster-than-light space travel. Just how far away from this puppy do our space colonies need to be to survive?
... I'm guessing the answer to my question is about 30,000 light years away. So how long does that give us before we need to launch the colony ships?
not very long, considering that in order for them to survive with earth gone they would need to be fully self sufficient and perfectly habitable. which would probably mean a few hundred thousand years of terraforming and a few thousand of establishing a stable, independent colony.
Eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we may die! or in 10 million years... but I agree, we wouldn't know about it until it hit, seeing as the radiation travels at the speed of light. But who knows, in 10 million years, we might have the technology to stop it from going supernova, and maybe harness the power... you never know.
we are a petri dish of course we are still here!
I just looked T Pyxidis up on wikipedia. It suggests that T Pyxidis will have moved much further away from us in 10 million years.
Also, the person who calculated the 20 billion billion billion megatons of TNT magnitude has been challenged on his calculations.
With: "A supernova would have to be 10 times closer [to Earth] to do the damage described."
If the gamma rays from this thing fry the ozone layer but don't actually kill us all, the problem would then be UV rays from the sun cooking everything. The answer is a giant set of sunglasses in orbit to block the UV!
Also, an atmosphere suddenly loaded with nitrous oxide could be hilarious for those left alive.
geez reading these comments is sorta depressing. i mean, u guys r all like "WE R GONNA DIE AND NOT KNOW ITS COMING!" face it, everyone dies eventually. i'd rather focus on having a good life than focus on horrible ways to die. u know what i mean?
Of course starsci - death is inevitable and natural. its almost certainly not going to happen in our lifetimes, and by the time ti does happen humanity will probably either be able to deal with it, or wont be around anymore. its not something to worry about, its an interesting fact about the universe.
that, and death doesn't have to be depressing, it brings about new life or new beginnings. even if this star did blow and somehow extinguish ALL life on earth, it would just get started again slowly, eventually - all the makings for life are here.
trireme, i just realised that it would be a hilarious way to go. honestly, dieing laughing can't be so bad.
Yeah. But if its 3,200 light years away then if it exploded, even if that force traveled at the speed of light, which it wouldn't, it would still take 3,200 years to get to us. So it good explode tomorrow, and we wouldn't see it for 3,200 years. Shit, it might have already exploded.... hmmmmmmm
oh woops, someone already said that hehehe
aw man i can't delete my retarded comment
Exactly Mr. T Pyxidis is 30842208000000000 Kilo meters away from earth......
What if blew up 3259 years, 11 months and 29 days ago? If it takes 3260 years for the light to reach us, then the second we see it blow up in our telescope is the moment we get the radiation, right? I'm not being sarcastic, I'm really asking.
T Pyxidis?, i'm not worried in the least. Mankind's continued insistence on believing in the supernatural is likely to destroy us long before any natural cause.
still, the force of the blast would never reach us right? just the harmful radiation in our atmosphere killing the ozone. Wouldn't a giant shield be sufficient? 1,000 simultaneous solar flares doesnt sound all too bad. it wouldnt have to be an extremely large shield, just something flown out in the stars direction to deflect harmful rays from our planet or even our solar system. The star however would no longer be observable.
tomx what is that? Why throw in a weird comment like that. Everyone knows that unlike all the hollywood movies showing a dystopic future ruled by some proto-theocracy with total control it's actually the anti-religion-ocracy that want to control the world with a soft iron fist for our own good. Get with the program.
But on the bright side if it supernovas we might be on the other side of the sun when it hits and we'll miss the worst of it. Only half the world will die laughing. The other side will just smile a little.
@mycellium: I know you're joking but the bombardment is bound to last more than half an earth year.
Well, I'm not going outside without an umbrella anymore.
Pretty scary stuff when you think about it. Of course I am always laughing at the fools that truly believe in all this doomsday crap.