Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Another ‘Death Star’, This One Aimed at Earth

It seems like anything in space that shoots a massive beam of deadly radiation counts as a “death star” in the press. I guess it makes sense. In December, you may recall, there was a galaxy spewing nasty gamma and X-rays at its neighbor galaxy. Space.com called it a “death star galaxy.”

Now,
over at CosmosMagazine.com, there’s a new “death star,” and this time it’s pointed at us. Actually, it’s not a death star yet, but it’s a binary system where one of the stars is on the verge of going super nova. When that happens, there’s a chance that, due to the way the system is oriented, it could shower the earth in a beam of gamma rays.

So what? Gamma rays are bad. You get enough of them pummeling the earth and it could strip away the ozone layer. Still, you wonder, who cares? Well, the ozone layer filters about 97 percent of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation (
according to Wikipedia). This is important because high doses of UV radiation can damage DNA. That’s bad.

Experts believe a gamma ray burst pounding the earth 443 million years ago “wiped out 60 percent of life and cooled the planet,” according to Cosmos.

Before you start stocking up on sunscreen, or buying up sunscreen stocks, experts figure it will be a few hundred thousand years before the unstable binary star system aimed at us explodes.

The system, known as WR 104 is 8,000 light years from earth in the constellation Sagittarius.

Pound360 originally picked up this story
via Slashdot.

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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.