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New research expands lethal zone around supernovae

According to data collected from a number of orbiting space X-ray telescopes, astronomers now believe that the lethal zone for nearby habitable planets when a supernova explodes is much larger than previously thought, as great as almost 200 light years.

The calculations in this latest study are based on X-ray observations of 31 supernovae and their aftermath mostly obtained from Chandra, NASA’s Swift and NuSTAR missions, and ESA’s (European Space Agency’s) XMM-Newton. The analysis of these observations shows that there can be lethal consequences from supernovae interacting with their surroundings, for planets located as much as about 160 light-years away. “If a torrent of X-rays sweeps over a nearby planet, the radiation would severely alter the planet’s atmospheric chemistry,” said Ian Brunton of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who led the study. “For an Earth-like planet, this process could wipe out a significant portion of ozone, which ultimately protects life from the dangerous ultraviolet radiation of its host star.”

You can read the paper here [pdf], which includes a figure that suggests in certain circumstances the lethal zone can be 200 light years across. As the scientists note:

Perhaps the most interesting results are the distances at which the X-ray emission can impose lethal effects on an Earth-like biosphere. This larger range of influence has consequences for the Galactic habitable zone, such as the harmful implications for recently discovered exoplanets that would be susceptible to nearby [supernovae].

In other words, this data suggests the galaxy is far less hospitable to the development of life. It takes a lot of time for life to evolve, billions of years, and during that time a solar system traveling through the galaxy has now a much higher chance of passing too close to a supernova explosion.

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  • David Ross

    This will be more a problem in the early giga-years of a galaxy’s formation (and merger with other galaxies), and closer to the core.
    Once we get to, say, the 10 Gy age (we’re 13) most of the earlier hotter stars will be dead and later hot stars shouldn’t be forming as often, at least not in spiral-arms (like we are).
    This does help explain why we haven’t seen evidence of ancient civilisations.

  • Jack O'Leary

    Ice worlds with su surface oceans should be protected from these effects. Fermi paradox still reigns.

  • Max

    “If a torrent of X-rays sweeps over a nearby planet, the radiation would severely alter the planet’s atmospheric chemistry,”

    This is true.

    “For an Earth-like planet, this process could wipe out a significant portion of ozone, which ultimately protects life from the dangerous ultraviolet radiation of its host star.”

    This is ignorance.
    Ozone is formed and destroyed by radiation, but it is the ionizing radiation from the sun that breaks apart O2 oxygen “so that ozone can form”. Our atmosphere protects us… ozone is proof of it, not the mechanism of it… There just isn’t enough of it to make a difference for protection. (3-10ppm depending on day or night)
    This mostly takes place above the troposphere where the ozone layer, in the stratosphere, is heated by UV-B and C radiation. (jet planes fly in the lower ozone layer for the extra boost)
    Fortunately for earth, x-rays mostly occur during sunspot season electrifying our ionosphere and creating carbon 14 from normal carbon which is absorbed by every living thing. The calcium carbonate from those living things make up 1/10 of the earths crust. (lime stone)
    X-rays have a lot of energy with a small wavelength. We’ve all seen x-rays of body parts where the bone, being more dense, blocks some of the x-rays from passing through the body.
    The ozone in the atmosphere will be made thicker by this process, not destroyed… (matter cannot be created nor destroyed, this is sensational but inaccurate choice of words)
    The only possible way to remove ozone from our planet is to remove all the oxygen… Or the sunlight! As long as these two items exist at the same time, ozone will temporarily form during the day. Ozone is the greatest ozone depleting chemical… When 03 molecules or nitrous oxide molecule run into each other, it turns back in to O2. This process makes the sky glow green at night as seen from the space station… Until the cold slows down the reaction.
    This process is consistent and well understood, as well as the lack of ozone over the poles during six months of no sunlight to form it.

    A large amount of x-rays could pass through the atmosphere, but not through rock and not through a few feet of water… The parts of the earth that are in the shade, underwater, or on the far side of the planet at the time of the energy wave will survive.

    A true sterilizing event from a supernova comes from neutron radiation… 1/2 of all neutrons that hit the planet pass right through. But the ones that collide with something, do a lot of damage.
    Scientist put tanks of heavy water surrounded by photon detectors deep in the earth for this purpose, to detect nuclear explosions, nuclear reactors, and on a few occasions, distant supernovas which gives the telescopes time to point in the right direction to record it.

    I should mention that none of this branch of science would be possible if our Sun was a nuclear furnace… The radiation from that furnace would overwhelm any detectors that we create… In fact, the given amount of heat the sun radiates could only be produced buy a huge amount of fusion creating so much radiation… It would be enough to irradiate the earth lifeless with every rotation. (A factor of 3 [10×10×10] minimum more radiation then the sun’s current output)
    A smoker receives more radiation then a astronaut on the space station.

    “In 1987, Parker proposed the existence of nanoflares, a leading candidate to explain the coronal heating problem.”

  • John

    I had to check how far away Betelgeuse is. We’re good as long as their calculations are.

    Let there be Light! OK, that’s enough. Thanks.

  • 1/2 of the neutrons that impact the earth pass right through? I don’t think so.

    Sounds like a garble of (mostly incorrect) knowledge about neutrinos, not neutrons.

  • Star Bird

    Have they found any Wormholes yet or the Jupiter 2?

  • Max

    That neutrons/neutrinos passed through the earth is not debated. The words themselves in articles I’ve looked up are used interchangeably. Neutron is singular, neutrino is plural?

    “The solar neutrino flux for us on Earth is about 65 billion neutrinos, passing through just one square centimeter of area on earth, every second. That’s a lot of neutrinos. And almost all of them pass right on through the earth and out the other side“

    “Neutrons have no electric charge so they don’t interact with the electric and magnetic fields, have mass so they do interact with gravity and are smaller than nuclei so they pass through most atoms, which are mostly empty space.”
    “Cosmic rays generate free neutrons by spallation from nuclei in Earth’s atmosphere, Earth’s crust, and Earth’s deep interior. Not many cosmic rays reach the deep interior, because the Earth is a pretty good shield.”
    “Solid rock is opaque to neutrons for the same reason that clouds are opaque to light.”

    “from the Big Bang that began the universe, from exploding stars and, most of all, from the sun. They come straight through the earth at nearly the speed of light, all the time, day and night, in enormous numbers. About 100 trillion neutrinos pass through our bodies every second.”
    “Installed in a 6,800-foot-deep nickel mine in Ontario, SNO contains 1,100 tons of “heavy water,” which has an unusual form of hydrogen that reacts relatively easily with neutrinos. The fluid is in a tank suspended inside a huge acrylic ball that is itself held inside a geodesic superstructure, which absorbs vibrations and on which are hung 9,456 light sensors“
    “Physicists and astronomers interested in the information that neutrinos from outer space might carry about supernovas or colliding galaxies have set up neutrino “telescopes.” One, called IceCube, is inside an ice field in Antarctica“
    “The sensors are aimed not at the sky, as you might expect, but toward the ground, to detect neutrinos from the sun and outer space that are coming through the planet from the north. The earth blocks cosmic rays, but most neutrinos zip through the 8,000-mile-wide planet as if it weren’t there.“

    “Homestake’s mineshaft elevators to nearly a mile underground. They are drawn to the mine’s extraordinary depth for a different reason: it provides a quiet environment for detecting faint but earth-penetrating signals from space.”
    “One riddle the scientists are trying to resolve is the discord between their celestial observations and textbook theories of gravity. The discord suggests that the universe is hiding “dark matter,” which hasn’t been observed but is estimated to be five times more abundant than the stuff of galaxies. Scientists hypothesize that dark matter is made up of Weakly Interacting Massive Particles, or WIMPS.“

    My daughter and her family just visited this mine in lead when they were at deadwood South Dakota on vacation.

    There are neutrino detectors deep underground all over the world, and now they’re using exotic materials to attempt to find dark matter… Fascinating stuff.

  • Max: Neutrons are NOT neutrinos. They are entirely different particles, according to the standard physics that has existed for the past 75 years.

  • Max

    You are right, I used a question mark because I was unsure.

    “Neutron is a subatomic particle that resides in the nucleus of an atom. Whereas, neutrino is a subatomic particle with a small mass (similar to electrons) and no electrical charge. So, the key difference between neutron and neutrino is that neutrons have a higher mass than neutrinos. Also, another significant difference between neutron and neutrino is that the neutrons are closely similar to the protons in their mass, but the neutrinos are closely related to the electrons in their mass. However, both these particles don’t have a charge. Moreover, neutrinos are elementary particles and neutrons are non-elementary particles“

    I need to remember this so I don’t reference the wrong terminology. This is what happens when you don’t go to school. (Non-academic unfamiliar with the nomenclature, a language only used with very few individuals on rare occasions)

    It also makes me wonder if neutrino detection equipment gets advanced enough, gravitational lensing (which I claim cannot be seen without a corrective lens because of the prismatic affect on different wavelengths of light) can be settled by the lack of neutrinos from the visible stars being lensed. Neutrinos would be unaffected by gravity (time distortion) magnetism, and other anomalies that bend light.
    Gravity and magnetism will not only bend light like a prism, but because of ”resistance” slowing and altering the wavelength of the light changing its color.
    Some of the new pictures show streaks of light, this is more consistent with the model.

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