Sunday, June 21, 2009

"Impact": What if a piece of a brown dwarf hit the Moon (or the Earth, for that matter)?

On Sunday, June 21, 2009, ABC aired the first two hours of its miniseries “Impact”, directed by Mike Rohl, written by Michael Vickerman, apparently financed and made in Germany and Canada. The second half airs June 28.

The movie opens with a meteor shower, with the Moon taking a huge hit from a large piece, in sight of a boy’s telescope. Soon there are odd effects around the world: the little boy shocks everyone with a tape measure home run in Little League, when the field is attacked by lightning in clear air. In fact, whole objects and people levitate, and irregular tsunamis occur around the world. (This film bears no relation to Dreamworks’s “Deep Impact” in 1998).

Astronomers notice that the Moon’s orbit is becoming elliptical, and approaching ever closer. Soon geologists recover a meteor fragment and find that it consists of the degenerate matter of a brown dwarf. The Moon is much too massive and has a piece of brown dwarf lodged inside it like a bullet needing to be removed by a 19th Century doctor in a western. It comes closer and closer, picking up whole trains, and will eventually collide with Earth.

The astronomers say that two brown dwarfs collided, but in fact I think that the chunks of degenerate matter would evaporate, so it sounds like this is impossible.

A rogue brown dwarf could threaten a planet directly, and it probably has happened in some solar systems in our galaxy.

Attribution link for a NASA public domain illustration of a T-dwarf. It actually would look magenta if close enough to be seen.

Update: June 28, 2009
ABC aired the second half (two hours) of the film tonight. They come up with a plan to split the Moon in two and eject the fragment of brown dwarf. And, yup, they have to send astronauts, and some scientist-not-so-spaceworthy, and yes, a man (with a pregnant wife, played up for sympathy) is "elected" for self-sacrifice. Well, maybe, like in Apollo 13, they can get them back, but they don't have Ron Howard directing. The special effects, including how the Moon looks from Earth when split into pieces, are interesting.

Attribution link for Wikimedia picture of Moon here.

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