Tuesday, August 18, 2009

History Channel: The Universe: "Death Stars"

On Tuesday Aug. 18, the History Channel premiered its 2009 “Universe” series with the episode “Death Stars.”

The documentary examined blue giant start WR104, a huge “Rubyiat” that is already preparing to go supernova. The star might not have enough metallicity to avoid becoming a Gamma Ray Burst. From the position of the dust spirals nearby, we believe that Earth would be in the firing line 8000 years after a GRB. We are just close enough that our ozone layer could be set on fire, possibly a life extinguishing event. Once every billion years or so the Earth could be jeopardized by a GRB in the Milky Way.

There also exist “death galaxies” where entire small galaxies shoot out gamma rays to nearby galaxies. A few billion years from now, the Milky Way will merge with the larger Andromeda and could generate a death galaxy.

Binary neutron stars, of which there are about 24 in the Milky Way, could generate short GRB’s aimed at Earth.

A rogue neutron star could conceivably kick the Earth out of solar orbit, to freeze as a rogue planet X. Would they tell us? It sounds like the stuff of Jules Verne.

The “Star Wars” series presented its versions of death stars.

There are some supernova contenders even within 1000 light years, like red giant Beetlegeuse, only 500 light years away, and it might generate a GRB, but we are not in its blast line. A nearby supernova would be the brightest night object every seen.

Attribution link for NASA p.d. drawing of a GRB, here.

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