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Space Science

Stellar Blast Boils Away Some of a Planet's Atmosphere 34

The Bad Astronomer writes "Using a combination of Hubble and Swift observations, astronomers have apparently witnessed some of a planet's atmosphere being peeled away by a powerful stellar blast. HD 189733b orbits its star just 4 million km from the surface, and a few hours after Swift detected a big X-ray flare from the star, Hubble data revealed a big jump in hydrogen absorption as the planet transited the star. This indicates the planet's atmosphere was blasted off by the flare to the tune of a thousand tons of hydrogen per second. The planet is so hot it probably already loses a substantial amount of air to space all the time, but this spike is the first time a change in an exoplanet's atmosphere has been detected."
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Stellar Blast Boils Away Some of a Planet's Atmosphere

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    "The planet is so hot it probably already loses a substantial amount of air to space all the time."

    What is this "air" they are talking about?

  • 4 mil km (Score:5, Funny)

    by SJHillman (1966756) on Thursday June 28, 2012 @02:54PM (#40484695)

    4 million km is roughly 0.02 AU or 1/10th the mean distance of Mercury from the Sun

    It someone got that close to me, I'd let them have it too.

  • ...or the last lifeboat of the Splugorthian empire disintegrating in a desperate attempt to evacuate the brave historians who dared to save their Elranythic relics?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The next morning the skies are on fire from the solar flare. John fights his way through the chaotic streets of Boston, arriving at his estranged father's home. They embrace as the solar flare burns away the atmosphere and incinerates the surface of the Earth, destroying all life on the planet.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knowing_(film)#Plot [wikipedia.org]

  • Just some time back I felt a great disturbance in force. As if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I shrugged it off as a side effect of the burrito I had from Taco Bell last night. Looks like it was more than that.
    • by EdIII (1114411)

      You know that is probably the single greatest benefit of being a Jedi. You could pass the nastiest gas in a crowded elevator (turbo lift, whatever) and just wave your hands and nobody would remember you did it.

  • It could happen here (Score:5, Informative)

    by sl4shd0rk (755837) on Thursday June 28, 2012 @03:07PM (#40484937)

    When stars go supernova, they sometimes release large Gamma Ray Bursts which are far more devastating to an atmosphere than X-rays. GRBs can cover great distances too. Currently a star named WR 104 which is 8000 light years from earth seems to be pointing straight at us. If it goes GRB when it explodes, we may be in for trouble. There's enough energy there (even at that insance distance) to cause wide spread extinction on the planet.

    Interestingly enough, it may have already happened but the light from it, and/or the GRB, hasn't gotten here yet.

    http://www.space.com/5081-real-death-star-strike-earth.html [space.com]

    • by SJHillman (1966756) on Thursday June 28, 2012 @03:16PM (#40485085)

      I've heard theories that one of the Earth's mass extinction events may have been caused by a glancing blow from a GRB. The side facing away from the GRB would be mostly fine in the short term, but the boiling of the oceans on the other side would have much longer term implications for the entire planet.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Gamma rays at that distance wouldn't boil the oceans and the planet certainly wouldn't stop them either. The danger from gamma ray bursts are to the atmosphere and death on the cellular level due to the destruction of genetic materials.

    • by rleibman (622895) on Thursday June 28, 2012 @03:20PM (#40485157) Homepage
      (from wikipedia) Newer spectroscopic data suggest that WR 104's rotational axis is more likely angled 30–40 from Earth... so we're ok, something else will kill us.
    • by steelfood (895457)

      It'll arrive this year on December 21st.

    • by Teresita (982888)
      There's enough energy there (even at that insance distance) to cause wide spread extinction on the planet.

      Yeah, mass extinction events happen all the time. Every hundred million years of so. I better get my gamma ray shelter ready now.
  • Planet: "Man I'm hot."

    Sun: "Aww sorry. Would you like me to cool you down?"

    Planet: "Yes, please!"

    Sun: *faaaaart*

    Planet: "GAH no you asshole!"

    Sun: "Hahahahaha dweeb!"

We all agree on the necessity of compromise. We just can't agree on when it's necessary to compromise. -- Larry Wall