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Space Science

'Death Star' Aimed at Earth 400

Posted by Zonk
from the don't-destroy-earth-that's-where-i-keep-my-stuff dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A spectacular, rotating binary star system is a ticking time bomb, ready to throw out a searing beam of high-energy gamma rays that could lead to a major extinction event — and Earth may be right in the line of fire. Australian science magazine Cosmos Magazine reports: 'Though the risk may be remote, there is evidence that gamma ray bursts have swept over the planet at various points in Earth's history with a devastating effect on life. A 2005 study showed that a gamma-ray burst originating within 6,500 light years of Earth could be enough to strip away the ozone layer and cause a mass extinction. Researchers led by Adrian Melott at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, U.S., suggest that such an event may have been responsible for a mass extinction 443 million years ago, in the late Ordovician period, which wiped out 60 per cent of life and cooled the planet.'"
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'Death Star' Aimed at Earth

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  • by grub (11606) <slashdot@grub.net> on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @03:42PM (#22640496) Homepage Journal

    443 million years ago

    How do these fancy-pants "scientists" know what happened 442,994,000 years before Earth was created?

    • by sm62704 (957197) on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @03:55PM (#22640780) Journal
      Easy, they asked me.
    • by The-Bus (138060) on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @04:10PM (#22641060)
      Not only that, but the event is "6,500 light years" away; that's far, far in the future. According to my Kansas Board of Education approved science book, Judgment will come upon us before that time.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by msromike (926441) *
        The good news is that it will take 6500 years to arrive. The bad news is that it went Supernova 6499 years ago.
    • by BoomerSooner (308737) on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @04:48PM (#22641712) Homepage Journal
      Well at least we've figured out how to stop global warming :)
  • Thanks guys (Score:5, Informative)

    by NIckGorton (974753) * on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @03:42PM (#22640498)

    Further research would be required to determine if we are exactly in line with the axis of the system - but even if we are, we probably still have hundreds of thousands of years to come up with a solution, said Tuthill.
    Thanks for putting that at the end of TFA. Now I need to go change my shorts.
    • by polar red (215081) on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @04:00PM (#22640882)
      errr ... "informative" ???
    • Was the article accompanied by a grant application?

      Sounds like one of those three steps to profit schemes...
    • Re:Thanks guys (Score:5, Informative)

      by KwKSilver (857599) on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @04:16PM (#22641176)
      Not only that, but the star is 8000 light years distant, and the danger-zone was cited as 6500 light years. Even allowing for a 10% error in both figures...
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by rmerry72 (934528)

        Not only that, but the star is 8000 light years distant, and the danger-zone was cited as 6500 light years.

        Gamma rays don't suddenly stop dead in their tracks at 6500 light years, nor do they dissipate that fast. Gamma rays are light and the fact that we can see this star (and those thousands of times further away) indicates that if a large burst of gammas was flung in our direction we'd be well in the path. There was a recent episode of The Universe that covered this possibility. Nothing we can do about

      • by secPM_MS (1081961) on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @07:01PM (#22643562)
        While such Wolf-Rayet doubles, or the LBV in Eta Carniae are definitely pre-supernovae, it is unlikely that they are likely gamma ray burst sources. GRB's have a very strong preference for low metallicity environments, almost certainly because higher metal levels cause them to loose too much mass angular momentum. In this region of the galaxy, the metal levels is too high to have a high unlikelihood of GRB's. Also note that for the GRB to propagate into space, the star must first have blown off its envelope, or the GRB is absorbed in the stellar atmosphere and simply adds to the explosion energy (this is probably quite common).
  • by 192939495969798999 (58312) <info@@@devinmoore...com> on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @03:43PM (#22640516) Homepage Journal
    If these rays cool the planet, and Global Warming warms the planet, we should stay a nice luke-warm and be fine, right?

    If not, can't we just count on that layer of lead-based space debris to block the gamma rays? No? well then, feets don't fail me now!
    • by Pharmboy (216950) on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @03:57PM (#22640826) Journal
      If these rays cool the planet, and Global Warming warms the planet, we should stay a nice luke-warm and be fine, right?

      Except for the searing ultraviolet from a lack of ozone, I would say you are about spot on.
    • by ajs (35943) <ajs@@@ajs...com> on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @03:58PM (#22640846) Homepage Journal

      If these rays cool the planet, and Global Warming warms the planet, we should stay a nice luke-warm and be fine, right?
      You're mis-reading the quote. The event cooled the planet, not the rays. Likely that was a result of secondary effects. For example, killing 60% of living things would result in lots of barren land which would produce large amounts of dust. That may have been what produced the cooling effect.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @04:05PM (#22640946)
      I saw a show a year or two ago that said scientists believe the earth could soon lose its atmosphere in same the way that they think Mars once did due to the flipping or loss of its magnetic field as the core continues to flow and cool. I can't recall the name of the show but a quick Google show that Nova covered this in 2003. [pbs.org]
      • by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <Satanicpuppy&gmail,com> on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @04:23PM (#22641310) Journal
        Nah, polarity flips have been happening for a long time; if we lost our atmosphere every time, this planet would LOOK like mars...Anyway, Mars has no atmosphere because it's too small, not because it doesn't have a liquid core with the attendant magnetic field. Losing the magnetic field (which may or may not happen during a flip...Geologic data isn't precise enough to tell) could cause some problems with regards to the solar wind, but complete loss of atmosphere is extremely unlikely.

        The average period between pole flips is about 250,000 years, so that will give you a pretty good idea of how often it happens, and how unlikely it is that atmospheric loss follows. For the curious, it's been about 800,000 years since the last flip, so we're due one.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Vexor (947598)
      Everybody know that's Nuclear Winter will cancel out Global Warming.
  • Oh come on! (Score:5, Funny)

    by ArcherB (796902) * on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @03:43PM (#22640528) Journal
    You mean I've been driving a Prius and spending my beer money on renewable energy only to have this happen!??!

  • Episode of Sliders (Score:2, Informative)

    by celnick (78658)
    Didn't I see this when it was an episode of Sliders. For once, my watching an obscure science fiction show comes in handy. There was a parallel earth where a pulsar was heading towards earth and was gonna irradiate it and cause a mass extinction event.

    Good show, had some hot geeky chicks on it for awhile.
    • by phillymjs (234426) <slashdot@stCURIEango.org minus physicist> on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @04:00PM (#22640880) Homepage Journal
      The science on that episode (and most later episodes) was like the computer terminology thrown around in Hackers-- if you knew how wrong it was, it was almost painful to watch/hear. IIRC, the pulsars looked like empty toilet paper rolls with light coming out of the ends. And they didn't just irradiate Earth and leave it physically intact but lifeless, they made it blow up. Ugh, I'm shaking my head in disgust at the mere memory of it.

      That show started off great and is 100% responsible for me getting interested in the alternate-history genre. Unfortunately, after the creator left they just resorted to stealing movie plots and it got downright ridiculous and pathetic.

      ~Philly
  • by BenBoy (615230) on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @03:46PM (#22640578)
    Had to be said ...
  • Well guys.. (Score:5, Funny)

    by ben0207 (845105) <ben...burton@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @03:46PM (#22640580) Homepage
    It was nice knowing you.
    • by gardyloo (512791) on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @04:08PM (#22641028)
      You must've been new here.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by ScentCone (795499)
      It was nice knowing you.

      It's OK! Barack Obama will know what to do! If this thing can just... hold... off... until... next... year.

      Maybe if we just planned an unconditional sit-down with the people running that star, they'd like us again.
  • lead paint (Score:4, Funny)

    by spikenerd (642677) on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @03:46PM (#22640582)
    I own a very old house with lead paint all over the ceiling. Since your survival depends on renting my basement, I think I'll start the bidding at $100,000/mo+utils, no pets.
  • Not my problem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dasbush (1143709) on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @03:47PM (#22640598)

    Further research would be required to determine if we are exactly in line with the axis of the system - but even if we are, we probably still have hundreds of thousands of years to come up with a solution, said Tuthill.
    I'll just leave this little problem to my great(x1428) grandchildren to deal with.
  • No problem (Score:5, Funny)

    by eln (21727) on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @03:51PM (#22640682) Homepage
    This is really no problem at all. I'm sure we'll find a critical flaw in the star that will allow us to destroy it in the nick of time. Possibly an exhaust port or something like that.
    • Yeah, we can just take the routine "nuke it from orbit... it's the only way to be sure" actions. Whew!!! Problem solved!!

      Wait! What do you mean stars are basically just big long continuous nuclear reactions and nuking it only makes it worse?!

      I agree with that guy earlier... we're doomed.
    • by Arimus (198136) on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @04:06PM (#22640964)
      Sorry, exhaust port is out. I put some chicken mesh over the exhaust port and held it place with blutack and duck tape - nothing will dislodge the combined powers of the dark forces holding the mesh in place.

      I've also trained the gunners as to what the rebel ships look like and what the empire ships look like together with electro therapy they now know what to shoot at.

      The major commander on the death star will not be on board one of the fighters defending it.

      And anyway when the heroes first arrive on the station they will be taken, under armed guard, placed against the nearest wall and shot. Following being shot they will have their heads chopped off while I watch giving no chance for them to stage a stunning escape and disrupt my evil plans. This death will lack drama will be simple, won't go wrong, will make a mess - but hey, I've got an army of evil underlings who can clean up.

  • by d34thm0nk3y (653414) on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @03:51PM (#22640690)
    if years > 6000 and state == Kansas: Bad_Evolution_Jokes()
    • by andphi (899406)
      I think that function name is malformed. You forgot the verb. :) Should it have been getBadEvolutionJokes, putBadEvolutionJokes, listBadEvolutionJokes or modDownBadEvolutionJokes?
  • From TFA (Score:2, Funny)

    by pedropolis (928836)
    "A 2005 study showed that a gamma-ray burst originating within 6,500 light years of Earth could be enough to strip away the ozone layer and cause a mass extinction." The system in question is 8,000 light years away. So it's all good. Besides, we all know Uranus gets hit first...
  • With time lags between events of 400-plus million years, I really have to worry about this happening in my lifetime.

    Nitwits.
    • by Cyberax (705495)
      This start might have exploded 399 million years, 11 months, 30 days and 23 hours ago. So you'll its gamma ray burst will reach the Earth in an hour.
  • Well, at least is cooled the planet...
  • Impossible (Score:5, Funny)

    by wumpus188 (657540) on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @03:54PM (#22640744)
    John Titor would have warned us.
  • At a distance of 8,000 light years from Earth, the pair of stars are a short hop away in galactic terms

    And we are looking back 8000 years from today, since light took us 8,000 years to get to us. It will take another 8,000 years for a gamma blast to get to us. Something tells me were out of harms way.

    • by Pharmboy (216950)

      And we are looking back 8000 years from today, since light took us 8,000 years to get to us. It will take another 8,000 years for a gamma blast to get to us. Something tells me were out of harms way.


      My god, man, think of the children! Someone please think of the children!
  • by Anne_Nonymous (313852) on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @03:55PM (#22640770) Homepage Journal
    >> Cosmos Magazine reports

    Other articles include:

    10 Fabulous Handbags for the Apocalypse
    Is Your Man Cheating? Find Out With A Quantum Telescope.
    Lose Weight Fast - New Dark Matter Diet.
  • by IGnatius T Foobar (4328) on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @03:56PM (#22640792) Homepage Journal
    Only roaches, rats, and Steve Ballmer will live...
  • Used in Stephen Baxter's excellent Sci-Fi novel Manifold: Space. [amazon.com]

    One of the best hard-science Sci-Fi books I've ever read.
  • by PingXao (153057) on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @04:06PM (#22640974)
    To Americans, at least, it's obvious. It hates our freedom.
  • but is it per cent or percent? Are we paying for this too?
  • by Mr Z (6791) on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @04:08PM (#22641022) Homepage Journal

    If this happens, don't make anyone angry. You wouldn't like them when they're angry.

    --Joe
  • How do we know that it hasn't already gone off, and the burst is due to hit us in say, 10 minutes?
  • I was worried about global warming, now I know this event will cool the earth off, for the next dominate species.
  • by jdoss (802219) on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @04:13PM (#22641120)
    Right here [badastronomy.com].
  • by Ikcor (676683)
    it's a rotating binary star system.
  • by southpolesammy (150094) on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @05:02PM (#22641918) Journal
    So let me see if I've got this right...

    If a GRB hits us in the next 10 years, the Earth is cooked and we're screwed. Game over.

    If a GRB hits us in the next 100 years, the Earth is cooked, and although I'm gone, life on Earth is still screwed. Game over.

    If a GRB hits us in the next 1000 years, the Earth is still cooked, I'm long gone as are the vast majority of my descendants, but maybe mankind (assuming we live that long) will have found the means to leave the planet and preserve itself. However, life on Earth is still screwed. Game over.

    Ditto for 10k years, 100k, etc. Basically, there's very little we can do to save the Earth, and next to nothing we can do collectively to save ourselves, except for a few lucky individuals. Thus, the long term goal shouldn't be figuring out how to protect the Earth, but rather we should be figuring out how to preserve our legacy. Fighting against Mother Nature has proven time and time again to be futile.

Whenever a system becomes completely defined, some damn fool discovers something which either abolishes the system or expands it beyond recognition.

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