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Space Science

Eta Carinae, Soon To Be a Local Supernova 317

Posted by kdawson
from the don't-point-that-thing-at-me dept.
da4 writes "Phil Plait over at Bad Astronomy has a great article about Eta Car, a star approx 7,500 light years away from us that's ready to supernova sometime Real Soon Now." Larger versions of the Hubble-Chandra image of Eta Car are available at the Chandra site. Of course when astronomers say it's "about to explode," they really mean it probably exploded 6,500 to 7,500 years ago and we're awaiting the news.
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Eta Carinae, Soon To Be a Local Supernova

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  • by kylben (1008989)
    If we never get the news, will it actually have exploded, or not?
  • by sczimme (603413) on Friday June 22, 2007 @04:02PM (#19613801)
    I don't know if we should take the word of someone who runs a site called 'Bad Astronomy'...

    *checks TFA*

    The blue part is an optical image from Hubble, and shows the bipolar lobes of gas ejected when Eta Car had a coughing fit back in the 1840s. That's 20 octillion tons of gas (20,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) it ejected at about a million miles per hour, in case you're not getting enough awesome in your diet.

    I withdraw the objection. :-)

    • Re:Bad Astronomy? (Score:5, Informative)

      by spun (1352) <loverevolutionar ... minus physicist> on Friday June 22, 2007 @04:18PM (#19614021) Journal
      The Bad Astronomy site started out to debunk nutty astronomical theories, like the Electric Universe theory, or the preposterous notion that the moon landing was faked. It's a pretty decent site.
  • thanks (Score:5, Funny)

    by stoolpigeon (454276) * <bittercode@gmail> on Friday June 22, 2007 @04:02PM (#19613805) Homepage Journal
    Of course when astronomers say it's "about to explode," they really mean it probably exploded 6,500 to 7,500 years ago and we're awaiting the news.
     
    could you clear up that 'sun rise' and 'sun set' thing for me as well?
    • Re:thanks (Score:4, Funny)

      by IcyNeko (891749) on Friday June 22, 2007 @04:13PM (#19613973) Journal
      Sunrise, sunset. Sunrise, sunset. Swiftly flow the days. Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers, blossoming even as we gaze.

      I hope this clears up any further questions.
    • Re:thanks (Score:5, Insightful)

      by HTH NE1 (675604) on Friday June 22, 2007 @04:26PM (#19614129)

      Of course when astronomers say it's "about to explode," they really mean it probably exploded 6,500 to 7,500 years ago and we're awaiting the news.
      could you clear up that 'sun rise' and 'sun set' thing for me as well?
      How about this: even though this expected supernova happened thousands of years ago, for all causal purposes, it won't have any effect upon us until we can see it. After all, the speed of light is really just the speed of causality.

      So, in a local causal sense, it hasn't happened yet. The distance just means that if we thought to have any influence on it before it happens here, we'd have to have done something thousands of years ago or longer to exert a causal influence.
      • What happens if Schroedinger's Cat is is a box between the earth and this supernova and could be destroyed by the radiation wave?

        On a side note for all those young earth creationists out there, perhaps the event that will destroy the world has already happened x thousand light years away at the exact moment of creation and we just haven't figured it out yet!

      • After all, the speed of light is really just the speed of causality.

        No, the speed of light is the MAXIMUM "speed of causality". A causal connection between events can happen at less than the speed of light. A simple example is hearing thunder sometime after seeing the lightning strike in a thunderstorm. The connection between the two events (lightning flash and the thunder) propagates at ~330 m/s (the speed of sound in air). All relativity tells you is that the connection between two events cannot propag
  • by MarsDefenseMinister (738128) <dallapieta80@gmail.com> on Friday June 22, 2007 @04:03PM (#19613809) Homepage Journal
    We could be waiting to see this supernova theoretically about as long as the pyramids have been standing over the sands of Egypt.
    • by ozzee (612196)

      We could be waiting to see this supernova theoretically about as long as the pyramids have been standing over the sands of Egypt.

      If that is the case, Eta C. should already have gone supernova. We just can't see it yet.

      • If that is the case, Eta C. should already have gone supernova. We just can't see it yet.

        Which is an interesting statement, really, since it presupposes some sort of universal timeline on which it has "already" gone supernova. When in fact, there is no universal synchronicity.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by ozzee (612196)

          Which is an interesting statement, really, since it presupposes some sort of universal timeline on which it has "already" gone supernova. When in fact, there is no universal synchronicity.

          Does that mean that cat I ran over last night in my car was not necessarily born yet so I didn't really run over it ? Phew, I was having a bit of a guilt trip....

        • by IWannaBeAnAC (653701) on Friday June 22, 2007 @04:50PM (#19614393)

          Argh, I was going to moderate this thread, but when I saw this post I felt I should reply instead.

          Eta C surely has gone supernova already. General relativity tells us that the passage of time depends on your movements in space, but it doesn't forbit the presence of some 'special' reference frame in which one can consistently give an age on events that happen in the universe. That special reference frame would be the one based on the center of the universe - in effect, the center of mass frame. But even without such a special frame, we can certainly give a precise timeline between any two events no matter how separated they are or how they move. General relativity allows the exact calculation, it just won't be a constant timeline with time moving at the same rate for all observers.

          For the case of Eta C, it is located at a distance of 7500 lightyears away, so the light we see from it now left Eta C 7500 years ago. Since we will surely see it go supernova sometime within the next 1000 years, there is no doubt at all that Eta C went supernova sometime between 6500 and 7500 years ago. General relativity doesn't even come into it, it is already clear just from the finite velocity of light.

          • How do you know Eta Carinae went supernova during that specific time? We're seeing as it existed 7500 years ago. We're not sure, from what we can see with our eyes right now, that it doesn't depict a supernova 10,000 years from exploding. If that's true, then we'll see the supernova 17,500 years from now.
            • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

              by IWannaBeAnAC (653701)

              You should RTFA. It is almost at the end of the stellar lifecycle, and has already used up all of its hydrogen. If we don't see it go nova sometime within the next 1000 years, then our theories of stellar evolution are seriously f*cked.

          • There is no "center of the universe" or "center of mass of the universe", but there is still a "special" reference frame: the one in which the universe is isotropic (ignoring small anisotropies): it's the one in which the cosmic background radiation would not be blue/redshifted in opposite directions.

            That being said, general relativity is largely irrelevant on non-cosmological scales for these purposes.
            • Are you just nitpicking? If momentum has been conserved since the big bang, then there is surely a center of mass frame, and also a center of mass. The frame in which the cosmic background is isotropic might be a better definition, because it would be well-defined even in cases where the center of mass is not (say, if the universe is finite but has a non-trivial topology), but I'd like to know your reasoning for asserting that this is indeed the case [ie. that the center of mass of the universe is not wel
              • Didn't you state the reason yourself? I was under the impression (I keep up with cosmology purely on a popular science level, so it's quite possible I'm not up to date) that most theories of the universe involved a finite universe, but one which lacks spatial boundaries in our common 3 dimensions, which would then ruin any attempt to explicitly define a center of mass.
          • I'm traveling close to the speed of light, you insensitive clod! In fact, I'm traveling so fast, that the Lorentz contraction has resulted in Eta C being only a light day away. Ergo, it is very unlikely that in my inertial frame of reference that it has already gone supernova! That was the point that the GP was trying to make. Also, it's special relativity that tells us how the passage of time depends on your velocity in space, whereas general relativity also tells us how it is affected by acceleration and
            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by IWannaBeAnAC (653701)
              No, even in that case Eta C has already gone supernova. It might only take you one day to get to Eta C in your frame of reference, but in the frame of reference of Eta C (or the frame of reference of the Earth, for that matter) it will take very close to 7,500 years. Since it already went nova at least 6,500 years ago, you will be at least 14,000 years too late if you wanted to see it up close.
        • When in fact, there is no universal synchronicity.

          Just because we're not able to perceive or measure it, or that it's not useful on a relativistic scale, doesn't mean it's doesn't exist.

          "From the local frame of the universe as a whole" is a fine theoretical basis to correct the "reality isn't really real" line that relativity and quantum mechanics lead freshmen down.

  • Gamma Rays (Score:4, Funny)

    by turgid (580780) on Friday June 22, 2007 @04:04PM (#19613819) Journal

    So, do I need to build a lead-lined concrete bunker in my garden?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by kungfoofairy (992473)
      According to TFA, it's tilted 40 degrees away from us so we won't get hit.
    • by niceone (992278) * on Friday June 22, 2007 @04:14PM (#19613983) Journal
      So, do I need to build a lead-lined concrete bunker in my garden?

      You don't have a lead-lined bunker in your garden already? You must be new around here.
    • Yup, be sure to build it right under your pyramid and keep wearing that armadillo hat and asbestos underwear... :)
  • Relative Time (Score:3, Insightful)

    by profplump (309017) <zach-slashjunk@kotlarek.com> on Friday June 22, 2007 @04:05PM (#19613845)
    Apparently da4 discovered some new non-relative timescale that's consistent throughout the universe without respect to position or velocity. That seems much more noteworthy than this supernova thing.
    • by Tatarize (682683)
      Hm. If such a thing is constant then that star blew up years ago. It's seven thousand years away after all.
    • by wsherman (154283) *

      Apparently da4 discovered some new non-relative timescale that's consistent throughout the universe without respect to position or velocity.

      It's an interesting point that an entity in a different frame of reference would not have quite the same ideas about space-time coordinates of this supernova happen but when you're reading an article written on earth for an entirely earth-based audience then it's pretty clear that the article is using space-time coordinates relative to the earth's frame of reference.

      Al

      • by profplump (309017)
        If Eta Car is in our frame of reference then the explosion happens more or less when we see it, by definition. If Eta Car is not in our frame of reference then the comparison is not so simple.
        • by wsherman (154283) *

          If Eta Car is in our frame of reference then the explosion happens more or less when we see it, by definition.

          Well, we would still take into account the speed of light and the distance to Eta Car (relative to our reference frame). If Eta Car is 7,000 light years away (relative to our reference frame) and we observe the explosion now then, in our reference frame, the explosion happened 7,000 years ago.

          There are standard definitions of the passage of time on earth so the time is not a problem, specifically.

    • I wouldn't give him much credit for the discovery. The timescale doesn't need to be consistent throughout the universe, just between Earth and Eta C. And that is no problem - it is precisely analogous to communication over a slow medium (say, a war zone where your only communication from the frontline is a runner that takes half an hour to travel the distance. If you get a note saying "help, we are going to be annihilated in 10 minutes", then you don't need to use general relativity to figure that that t
      • by profplump (309017)
        Both your battlefield parties are in more or less the same frame of reference as they are only separated by a few miles; their limitation in communication speed is artificial and *not* related to some fundamental physical limit like the local speed of light in a vacuum. That's not the case with light coming through space from a very distant object. The timescale is different because of the distance itself, not just our relative speed.
        • I think you are wrong here; you are thinking of time dilation effects, but unless the objects are moving very quickly with respect to each other then they are more or less in the same inertial frame of reference and there is no time dilation. The distance per se has nothing to do with it. Of course, if Eta C is moving at close to the speed of light relative to us, then it is a different story.
  • Ummm... (Score:5, Funny)

    by TheSHAD0W (258774) on Friday June 22, 2007 @04:05PM (#19613847) Homepage
    All I can say is, if you see Al Gore, Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky wearing robes and riding camels... run like hell.
  • by dfn5 (524972) on Friday June 22, 2007 @04:05PM (#19613851) Journal

    they really mean it probably exploded 6,500 to 7,500 years ago and we're awaiting the news.
    When?
    Now.
    Now?
    Now.
    I can't
    Why?
    We missed it.
    When?
    Just now.
    When will then be now?
    Soon!
    • You missed 'now now' and 'now then', but you already scored 10 bonus points for the use of 'just now'. :)
  • As in we'll get to see the bang in a year? A decade? A Century?

    A hundred years is a blink of the eye to the universe.

    • by Goaway (82658)
      A hundred years is a blink of the eye to the universe.

      Yes, you're getting it now.
    • ...blink of the eye to the universe.

      And humans are... eye crust?
      Bummer.

    • by Brad1138 (590148) *
      How to correlate "soon" in respect to the universe with a Slashdotter.....? Ah...

      How soon will you get laid? Should be similar.
  • IIRC, one of the ways that life could be wiped out on this planet is if a nearby star goes supernova and bakes us with the neutron output.

    Obviously, this isn't the case with this star or people would be emptying their IRAs and going to Rio - but I have to wonder. Will there be any impact here on Earth from the explosion?

    • Will there be any impact here on Earth from the explosion?

      Doubtful. Stars contain little or no solid matter, and the likelihood of a cosmic cueball (planet chunks, anyone? let's hope it's not kryptonite, I'd rather "kryp" tomorrow) coming our way is roughly zero.

      Perhaps you meant "effect" rather than "impact". In that case, yes. We will recieve a tiny slice of its output of visible-spectrum radiation, an infintesimally small amount of "harmful" radiation, and some good scientific fodder. Oh, and if Hubble's
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by WrongMonkey (1027334)

      Note that the lobes appear to be tilted away from us by about 40 degrees or so. That's a good thing. When stars like Eta Carinae explode, they tend to shoot of beams of energy and matter that, at its distance of 7500 light years, could kill every living thing on Earth. But since it's pointed away from us, all we'll get is a spectacular light show.
      It could potentially wipe out life on Earth, but its pointed in the wrong direction...hopefully.
  • by tygt (792974)
    Maybe we should be keeping our eyes open for a blast of tachyons [wikipedia.org] ahead of the light show ;)
  • by 0p7imu5_P2im3 (973979) on Friday June 22, 2007 @04:23PM (#19614095) Journal

    I just hope that any local civilizations had advanced far enough to escape that horrible fate.

    At the rate we're going, what with news of Congress living up to their name (opposite of progress) with regard to exploration the exploration of Mars, we won't escape the fate of our solar system.

    • by spun (1352) <loverevolutionar ... minus physicist> on Friday June 22, 2007 @04:26PM (#19614127) Journal
      Eta Carinae is so large, it is almost too big to be a star. It has been blowing itself apart every now and then since it was born. I find it unlikely in the extreme that any life could have developed nearby. I doubt the system even has planets.
      • by Chris Burke (6130)
        I'm not sure, but I think that according to Star Control II that Eta Carinae did have planets, and at least some of them hosted alien life forms.
        • Yes, but the Star Control II Eta Carinae isn't the same star:

          Defined long ago by Chenjesu stargazers, the constellations are now accepted by all Alliance races as the standard. Due to the great difficulty in pronouncing the Chenjesu language, each race has translated the names into their own tongue. When it came time for Earth to adopt this system, the United Nations decided to use traditional astrological designations, assigned at random. This has caused some confusion, but it is considered preferable to

          • by Chris Burke (6130)
            Heh. I also like the part about "The positions are based on HyperSpace coordinates, which may be unsettling to some students of TrueSpace astronomy". All in all a humorous way to account for taking our section of the galaxy and making it 2D, and a joke I didn't appreciate having only played the Ur-Quan Masters OSS version of SC2.
      • by lawpoop (604919)
        Unless that type of life is unlike what we know as life, and arose in the energy the star was throwing off, perhaps feeding off of it, like green plants feed off energy our star throws off.
    • I'm not sure how fast this "force" thing moves, but no one seems to have felt a great disturbance in it yet...

    • I just hope that any local civilizations had advanced far enough to escape that horrible fate.

      Don't worry, the probability of other intelligent life in this galaxy is pretty much zero [wikipedia.org].

      At the rate we're going, what with news of Congress living up to their name (opposite of progress) with regard to exploration the exploration of Mars, we won't escape the fate of our solar system.

      Several things to say about this:

      1) Colonization of other planets in this solar system will NEVER happen. And I mean nev

    • Local civilizations?

      Err... Buddy?

      That's us.

      In the cosmic scheme of things, 7500 ly is not far. Think of it this way; if we're wrong, and something bizarre happened, and one of the "gamma ray bursts" is aimed at us rather than another direction, by the time we visually see the hypernova we'll be dying and/or dead.

      As it is, assuming that the gamma ray blasts follow its rotational axis, we'll be fine on the planet, but anything we've put into space has a good chance at being toast.

      The unfortunate part is that
  • by FrostedWheat (172733) on Friday June 22, 2007 @04:58PM (#19614455)
    "You know, you blow up one sun and suddenly everyone expects you to walk on water."
  • by Jugalator (259273) on Friday June 22, 2007 @04:59PM (#19614469) Journal
    Keep in mind that on a cosmolical scale, that could be within 10,000 years or so, a few nuclear wars and greenhouse disasters later. ;-)
  • by spaceyhackerlady (462530) on Friday June 22, 2007 @05:17PM (#19614619)

    The southern hemisphere sky has lots of goodies that us northern types don't get to see, and the Eta Carinae region is one of them. The nebula is slightly larger than the Orion Nebula as seen from Earth, but slightly dimmer. To me it looks like a flower blooming in space. It is accompanied by zillions of other nebulae and star clusters.

    The Milky Way through Centaurus and Carina is why astronomers often go to places like Australia for their vacations. I've taken a telescope to Costa Rica several times myself, and while the view isn't as good as it is in Australia, it's a lot less travel. The only thing we really miss out on from Costa Rica are the Magellanic Clouds, which look far better from New South Wales than they do from Guanacaste. The vague smudges down at the Tico horizon are detached pieces of the Milky Way in the Aussie country sky.

    My first view of the Eta Carinae region was with binoculars from St. Kilda Beach in Melbourne. It's not something one quickly forgets.

    ...laura

  • I was looking for a nice desktop image and happened to come upon this [hubblesite.org] panorama of Carina Nebula. This supernova is clearly visible(not fake colored x-ray) in the image, it is about 1/4 from the left side and in the middle of the picture just left of the big blob of dust. Curiously it has some sort of crosshairs on it, probably an optical illusion but nontheless interesting.
  • by pln2bz (449850) * on Friday June 22, 2007 @05:50PM (#19614925)
    There's something that doesn't quite follow with this article. The article states that we are only in danger when the bipolar configuration faces us. However, when the bipolar morphology faces us, it will look just like a sphere. The other lobe will be obstructed by the one closest to us. Somebody please correct me if I'm wrong, but how often do we see spherical objects in space as being identified as a bipolar configuration pointing at us?

    Couldn't a person make a pretty convincing argument that the bipolar configuration is in fact the primary configuration of all such objects, and that anything that looks like a sphere to us is in fact just the bipolar configuration pointing at us?
  • by StefanJ (88986) on Friday June 22, 2007 @06:56PM (#19615505) Homepage Journal
    It's a very, very large gamma ray laser, created by a very patient race with an enemy living in a globular cluster whose orbit around the galaxy will take it into the path of the polar emission stream.

    The other pole's stream will be redirected with a vibrating unobtanium mirror and used to paint advertising slogans in a gas cloud on the edge of the Lesser Magellanic Cloud.

It's a naive, domestic operating system without any breeding, but I think you'll be amused by its presumption.

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