11 thoughts on “I Hate When That Happens”

  1. If the article linked to above is the first you’ve heard of WR 104, I strongly recommend googling WR 104 and look (at a minimum) at the titles of the google results to get a more accurate picture of what is going on. The “Bad Astronomer” has a nice introduction, and there is an article in the top ten links that reports on new research on whether or not WR 104 is pointed directly at us.

  2. Also, the article is problematic in that it suggests that the radiation from a gamma ray burst would directly kill us. That’s wrong – look up “effects of a gamma ray burst”. Trivially, the hemisphere facing away from the event would be shielded – the burst wouldn’t last all day. For the other hemisphere, someone else can do the math on the shielding ability of our buildings. The real problem for us would be this: The radiation would trash the Earth’s ozone layer (I’m leaving out some chemical steps), and this would eventually kill our crops, and we’d face starvation. I’m not claiming to have authoritative knowledge, but please think of this comment as a reason to be skeptical about the specifics of the article and do further reading.

  3. I think the really big problem is the jet of ultrarelativistic charged particles that would accompany the gamma ray burst (after a delay). These hits the upper atmosphere, where they make pions, which decay to energetic muons. If we catch the burst full on it sterilizes the biosphere down to a kilometer or so underground, since the muons are very penetrating. The 14C loading of the atmosphere could also be a problem.

    Space colonies could help, either by building them deep in asteroids, or if the shielding absorbs enough pions before they can decay (the ones produced in the upper atmosphere can travel a long distance before being absorbed, so many of them decay).

  4. Paul, do you know if the jet would hit the earth long enough to cover both hemispheres?

    In any case, Paul, these guys (http://arxiv.org/abs/astro-ph/0512013) seem to disagree with you, for whatever that’s worth, at least with respect to WR 104 — they say the cosmic rays would only be threat for up to a few parsecs. They say “direct gamma Flash, UV Flash, Ozone Layer Depletion” are much bigger threats than cosmic rays.

  5. Rand, I do take extinction level events seriously. When the possible event is space-related, that’s just icing on the cake!

  6. Great, A star about to supernova with enough power to fry off all life in the direction of its blast – might be directing it toward us.

    This year its just one damn thing after another!

  7. In all seriousness, what sort of shielding would be necessary to protect us from that? Is this the sort of thing where only whoever’s living a mile underground is going to make it? Could you shield an O’Neil cylinder against this?

  8. If we pay Al Gore to talk about this threat, that should pretty much guarantee it won’t happen to us.

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