What Would Happen If I Ate A Teaspoonful Of White Dwarf Star?
“Everything about it would be bad,” says Mark Hammergren, an astronomer at Adler Planetarium in Chicago, beginning with your attempt … Continued
“Everything about it would be bad,” says Mark Hammergren, an astronomer at Adler Planetarium in Chicago, beginning with your attempt to scoop it up. Despite the fact that white dwarfs are fairly common throughout the universe, the nearest is 8.6 light-years away. Let’s assume, though, that you’ve spent 8.6 years in your light-speed car and that the radiation and heat emanating from the star didn’t kill you on your approach. White dwarfs are extremely dense stars, and their surface gravity is about 100,000 times as strong as Earth’s. “You’d have to get your sample—which would be very hard to carve out—without falling onto the star and getting flattened into a plasma,” Hammergren says. “And even then, the high pressure would cause the hydrogen atoms in your body to fuse into helium.” (This type of reaction, by the way, is what triggers a hydrogen bomb.)
It would fall unimpeded through your body, carve a channel through your gut, come out through your nether regions, and burrow a hole toward the center of the Earth.Then you’d have to worry about confinement. Freeing the sample from its superdense, high-pressure home and bringing it to Earth’s relatively low-pressure environment would cause it to expand explosively without proper containment. But if it didn’t blow up in your face—or vaporize your face, since the stuff’s temperature ranges between 10,000˚ and 100,000˚F—and you somehow got it to your kitchen table, you’d be hard-pressed to feed yourself: A single teaspoon would weigh in excess of five tons. “You’d pop it into your mouth and it would fall unimpeded through your body, carve a channel through your gut, come out through your nether regions, and burrow a hole toward the center of the Earth,” Hammergren says. “The good news is that it’s not quite dense enough to have a strong enough gravitational field to rip you apart from the inside out.”
It probably wouldn’t be worth the trouble anyway, Hammergren laments. White dwarfs are mostly helium or carbon, so your teaspoonful would taste like a whiff of flavorless helium gas or a lick of coal. But if you’re desperate for a taste of star, you don’t really need to travel 8.6 light-years—your fridge is full of the stuff. Most of the elements that make up our bodies and everything around us were formed in the cores of stars and then belched out into the universe over billions of years. Basically everything you eat was once part of a star. Might we recommend some star fruit?
This article originally appeared in the November 2009 issue of Popular Science magazine.