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Supernova poised to go off near Earth
New Scientist ^ | Eugenie Samuel

Posted on 05/28/2002 4:52:08 PM PDT by vannrox

NewScientist.com

 
 

Supernova poised to go off near Earth

 
10:30 23 May 02

Eugenie Samuel

 

A student at Harvard University has stumbled across the terrifying spectacle of a star in our galactic backyard that is on the brink of exploding in a supernova. It is so close that if it were to blow up before moving away from us, it could wipe out life on Earth.

 (Photo: SPL)
(Photo: SPL)

Most supernovae occur when large stars run out of fuel and then collapse under their own weight. As atoms in the star are squeezed together, they rebound outwards, blowing off energy in a dazzling and dangerous display lasting several weeks.

But this one is different. Called HR 8210, it is a humble white dwarf, a star that has run out of fuel and should be too small to produce a supernova. But it may not stay that way. First, it is not alone, but is orbiting a companion star in a typical binary system. And it is 1.15 times the mass of our Sun, which for a white dwarf is a whopper.

The system was first logged in 1993 but little attention was paid to it. Then when Harvard student Karin Sandstrom investigated HR 8210 for a college paper this year, she discovered that it is only just shy of the Chandrasekar limit - the mass at which it would be big enough to go supernova. That makes it the best and by far the closest supernova candidate discovered so far.

The crunch will come when HR 8210's companion begins to run out of fuel. As it expands to form a red giant star, its outer layers will be dumped onto HR 8210, pushing it over the Chandrasekar limit. "Our initial idea was that this might happen very soon," says Sandstrom's supervisor Dave Latham.


Too close for comfort

But do not panic yet. "Very soon" could mean hundreds of millions of years in the future. And that is just as well, because we are only 150 light years away from HR 8210 at present - well short of the 160 to 200 light years thought to be the minimum safe distance from a supernova. If it did let fly, the high-energy electromagnetic radiation and cosmic rays it released would destroy Earth's ozone layer within minutes, giving life little chance of survival.

This would not be the first time a supernova has changed the course of life on Earth. In 2001, Jesus Maiz-Apellaniz and colleagues from the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, found a "smoking gun" supernova remnant, in the group of stars known as the Scorpius- Centaurus association.

The timing of the supernova corresponds to an otherwise mysterious deposit of heavy isotopes in deep Earth cores and to a mass marine extinction two million years ago. At the time, Scorpius-Centaurus was around twice as far away from Earth as HR 8210 is now.

Fortunately, it will take time for HR 8210 to accumulate the mass it needs. Preliminary calculations by Rosanne di Stefano at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center suggest this may take hundreds of millions of years. By that time it will be much further away, she says, though she still needs to confirm exactly how far. "I want to be sure I'm right."

But will similar stars threaten us before then? "The fact that there's such a system so close to us suggests maybe these objects are not so rare," says Latham.

 
10:30 23 May 02
 


TOPICS: Front Page News; Miscellaneous
KEYWORDS: catastrophism; davelatham; doom; end; explosion; goliath; hr8210; nasa; nova; planet; space; star; supernova; whitedwarf; world
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1 posted on 05/28/2002 4:52:09 PM PDT by vannrox
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To: vannrox
1. I'm sure Osama bin Laden is behind this somehow.

2. How come Tom Ridge hasn't raised the alert condition to Orange?

2 posted on 05/28/2002 4:53:31 PM PDT by Poohbah
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To: vannrox
Does Bush know about this and when did he know it? We need an investigation. Someone hasn't been connecting the dots.
3 posted on 05/28/2002 4:56:30 PM PDT by gitmo
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To: vannrox
Uh...what level of Sun protection do we need if a super nova goes off that close?Guess I better see if I have insurance coverage as well.
4 posted on 05/28/2002 4:56:47 PM PDT by lexington minuteman 1775
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To: vannrox
Fortunately, it will take time for HR 8210 to accumulate the mass it needs. Preliminary calculations by Rosanne di Stefano at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center suggest this may take hundreds of millions of years. By that time it will be much further away, she says, though she still needs to confirm exactly how far. "I want to be sure I'm right."

Whew! Thanks Rosanne!! Wouldn't want you to jump the gun here or anything.

5 posted on 05/28/2002 5:00:37 PM PDT by michigander
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To: gitmo
Daschle was briefed, but he was too busy figuring out how to spin his wife's lobbying on behalf of Boeing.
6 posted on 05/28/2002 5:01:06 PM PDT by Poohbah
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To: vannrox
My lawyer needs to be kept apprised of these types of situations. Do supernovas generate asbestos? :).
7 posted on 05/28/2002 5:01:30 PM PDT by SnuffaBolshevik
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To: *space
*Index Bump
8 posted on 05/28/2002 5:04:30 PM PDT by Fish out of Water
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To: vannrox
Below was posted on SlashDot and Rense.com. It appears to be written by Karin Sandstrom.
Update On 'Threatening' Supernova
New Scientist Story
From Karin Sandstrom
Re: The New Scientist Article
5-25-2
Hi,

I'm Karin, the one quoted in this article as having discovered the supernova progenitor. I just wanted to let you all know to pay very little attention to the article. The reporter has taken one fact: that this might be a good candidate for a Type Ia supernova, and constructed a big mess out of it. I am very embarassed by this so I just wanted to clear up a few things.

First, I did NOTHING in the discovery process. I was just writing my senior thesis on white dwarfs and happened to study this system. It was discovered in 1993 by two separate groups of scientists (Landsman et al 1993, and Wonnacott et al 1993) They found the mass to be 1.15 solar masses, which is relatively large for a white dwarf star, but not the "just shy" of the Chandrasekhar limit that the reporter says. It is 0.3 times the mass of the sun shy of the limit, and that is a lot of mass. Lots and lots of people have studied this system since then, and many have commented on its possibilities for a supernova. All that I did in this story is to mention the system to a scientist here at Harvard who happens to simulate the evolution of a binary system towards a supernova and then mention in in a public talk about my thesis when a New Scientist reporter happened to be in the audience. The reporter got very excited and wrote this article, and left out the actual work that is being done on the evolutionary scenarios to sensationalize the possibility of a near earth supernova.

Second, what we have found, if anything, is that by the time that the white dwarf star has accreted enough mass from its companion to exceed the Chandrasekhar limit of 1.4 solar masses, it will be at least 10 kiloparsecs from earth, which is well on its way to the other side of the galaxy. The star will not pose any threat at all to earth. This is also hundreds of millions to billions of years in the future. I think the interesting part of this story is the terrible state of scientific news reporting in some popular journals. We discussed these problems extensively with the reporter and they were completely disregarded in the final version. Be on the lookout for our letter to the editor if you are interested. If anyone would like to know more about this, I'd be happy to explain what we really think is going on...unless you are a reporter, in which case don't bother...I'm done with them.

Thanks, Karin Sandstrom


9 posted on 05/28/2002 5:07:49 PM PDT by callisto
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To: vannrox
Just show where the snooze button is with the Supernova alarm. Might as well get a few extra winks in...
10 posted on 05/28/2002 5:08:07 PM PDT by TADSLOS
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To: vannrox
This is the usual idiocy by science reporters, and the New Scientist in particular (New Scientist = Junk Scientist). Here's the real thing from Jerry Pournelle's Current mail (May 27) - http://www.jerrypournelle.com/mail/currentmail.html:

"First to set your minds at rest we may have more than a few million years:

Hello, Regarding the supernova article...

This was posted to Slashdot (yes, yes, I know, it's just Slashdot) in response to this story:

-------------------------

>> I'm Karin, the one quoted in this article as having discovered the supernova progenitor. I just wanted to let you all know to pay very little attention to the article. The reporter has taken one fact: that this might be a good candidate for a Type Ia supernova, and constructed a big mess out of it. I am very embarassed by this so I just wanted to clear up a few things.

First, I did NOTHING in the discovery process. I was just writing my senior thesis on white dwarfs and happened to study this system. It was discovered in 1993 by two separate groups of scientists (Landsman et al 1993, and Wonnacott et al 1993) They found the mass to be 1.15 solar masses, which is relatively large for a white dwarf star, but not the "just shy" of the Chandrasekhar limit that the reporter says. It is 0.3 times the mass of the sun shy of the limit, and that is a lot of mass. Lots and lots of people have studied this system since then, and many have commented on its possibilities for a supernova. All that I did in this story is to mention the system to a scientist here at Harvard who happens to simulate the evolution of a binary system towards a supernova and then mention in in a public talk about my thesis when a New Scientist reporter happened to be in the audience.

The reporter got very excited and wrote this article, and left out the actual work that is being done on the evolutionary scenarios to sensationalize the possibility of a near earth supernova. Second, what we have found, if anything, is that by the time that the white dwarf star has accreted enough mass from its companion to exceed the Chandrasekhar limit of 1.4 solar masses, it will be at least 10 kiloparsecs from earth, which is well on its way to the other side of the galaxy. The star will not pose any threat at all to earth. This is also hundreds of millions to billions of years in the future.

I think the interesting part of this story is the terrible state of scientific news reporting in some popular journals. We discussed these problems extensively with the reporter and they were completely disregarded in the final version. Be on the lookout for our letter to the editor if you are interested.

If anyone would like to know more about this, I'd be happy to explain what we really think is going on...unless you are a reporter, in which case don't bother...I'm done with them. Thanks, Karin Sandstrom

-------------------------

Best regards,

Lee Plaisted Skeptical Maine-iac ---

"...religions are a democracy of beliefs while science is a dictatorship of facts." --Ludwig Krippahl

Which relieves our minds something wonderful and reassures us that the usual state of reporting is where it has been for a while."
11 posted on 05/28/2002 5:08:35 PM PDT by Thud
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To: SnuffaBolshevik
According to the Kyoto Protocol, since the student was located at Harvard University, the United States will be held reponsible for any and all effects to global warming that the super nova may produce.
12 posted on 05/28/2002 5:11:19 PM PDT by michigander
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To: lexington minuteman 1775
The problem with being within a couple of hundred light years of a Supernova, is that you're in range of a VERY significant initial gamma radiation pulse. Sufficient to sterilize a planet. And following the initial pulse, high-speed gases, moving at significant fractions of the speed of light. Just the thing to rip the atmosphere off of a seared planet.
13 posted on 05/28/2002 5:11:20 PM PDT by Salgak
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To: vannrox
>>But do not panic yet. "Very soon" could mean hundreds of millions of years in the future.

There's always a catch on these things.

14 posted on 05/28/2002 5:13:05 PM PDT by The Raven
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To: vannrox
Oh, please........This sounds more like a publicity stunt by an aspiring astonomy student, to me. Did I miss something, or was there no corraboration from anybody else in the article? Besides Sandstroms supervisor, I mean?

The Chandra

15 posted on 05/28/2002 5:14:00 PM PDT by jimtorr
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To: vannrox
But do not panic yet. "Very soon" could mean hundreds of millions of years in the future.

Yep, or it could have happened 149 years ago, but the light and radiation just hasn't gotten here yet.

Fortunately, it will take time for HR 8210 to accumulate the mass it needs. Preliminary calculations by Rosanne di Stefano at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center suggest this may take hundreds of millions of years

Doesn't sound to me like it should. When the companion goes red giant, the "dwarf" could grab up the necessary matter essentially instaneously, on the scale of such things, which might mean years, but surely not hundreds of million of years. Of course we don't know when the companion will go red giant, assuming that that didn't happen a 149 years ago of course. Well, it sound like it will be quite a show when it happens, something to look forward to, other than the possibily of getting thourghly fried that is. :)

16 posted on 05/28/2002 5:14:46 PM PDT by El Gato
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To: michigander
>>...the United States will be held reponsible for any and all effects to global warming that the super nova may produce.

I'm happy to say I've solved the global warming problem. Just throw a handful of Kudzu seeds over your shoulder and run like h*ll.

17 posted on 05/28/2002 5:17:14 PM PDT by The Raven
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To: vannrox
It is so close that if it were to blow up before moving away from us, it could wipe out life on Earth.

Let's hope so. Mankind has outlived its usefulness.

18 posted on 05/28/2002 5:19:30 PM PDT by montag813
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To: vannrox
Oh, please........This sounds more like a publicity stunt by an aspiring astonomy student, to me. Did I miss something, or was there no corraboration from anybody else in the article? Sandstroms supervisor doesn't count, unless he's a lot more respected than Latham.

I believe that the Chandrasekar limit applies to a star before it collapses. It's the act of compression that generates the energy to cause a star to blow. Adding more mass to a white dwarf would do nothing to cause a nova, super or otherwise.

Who is the New Scientist? The article is written for a popular audience, not for the astronomy student's peers. Has anybody seen this info published in a peer review journal? "Science" comes to mind, or even Scientific American, at least S.A. is written for a better educated popular audience.

19 posted on 05/28/2002 5:21:05 PM PDT by jimtorr
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To: callisto
How uncharacteristic for a reporter to not give all the facts.Most reporters do their homework and get all information correctly before going to print(sarcasm).We'll have to give this fellow a pass for being so excited about something happening in about a gazzillion years.Total bonehead...he'll get a good job with L.A Times or maybe the N.Y Times soon.I hear this type of reporting is the training for the big job....
20 posted on 05/28/2002 5:22:11 PM PDT by oust the louse
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To: jimtorr
Sorry about the previous, incomplete reply. I hit "post", rather than "preview" while trying to figure out how to spell "Chandrasekar". I kept thinking Chandra Levi, and I knew that wasn't right.
21 posted on 05/28/2002 5:24:39 PM PDT by jimtorr
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To: vannrox
Mr Samuels somehow either ignores or overlooks that it would be 150 years before we even know there has been a supernova and/or we feel the effects, if any.
22 posted on 05/28/2002 5:28:05 PM PDT by DaGman
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To: montag813
It is so close that if it were to blow up before moving away from us, it could wipe out life on Earth.

Let's hope so. Mankind has outlived its usefulness.

Yes indeed. We all know that the planet is being destroyed by mankind, particularly white North Americans.

This should please the fine members of Earth! First!

23 posted on 05/28/2002 5:31:58 PM PDT by Ole Okie
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To: vannrox
Well at least I know what the topic for tonight's Art Bell show will be.
24 posted on 05/28/2002 5:35:22 PM PDT by Dialup Llama
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To: vannrox
>A student at Harvard University has stumbled across the terrifying spectacle...

Someone reading a Bible in the student union?

25 posted on 05/28/2002 5:36:14 PM PDT by Dialup Llama
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To: The Raven
Kudzu Seeds - 1 ounce (180-200 seeds) $7.00 postage paid

Can you at least smoke the leaves?

26 posted on 05/28/2002 5:38:14 PM PDT by michigander
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To: callisto
Now THAT was one of the BEST, MOST REASONED technological rebuttal posts I have EVER SEEN on FR!!

KUDO's!!

Doc

27 posted on 05/28/2002 5:39:54 PM PDT by Doc On The Bay
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To: callisto
I have heard reports that Earth is already on the road to becoming uninhabitable by humans due to the CO2-O2 cycle breaking down.

The short version is that plate tectonics combines with weather to keep temperatures between boiling and freezing points of water over the very long term. In Earth's early history, when the sun was much more feeble, there was much more CO2 in the atmosphere.

According to the article I read, or heard, the sun was already hot enough that critical amounts of CO2 will have to be removed from the atmosphere just to keep temps from soaring and oceans from boiling away. Soon, the Earth will remove so much CO2 that plant life will be reduced. Long before the sun goes to Red Giant stage, advandced life on Earth will be blotted out. The article said this was already beginning to happen, and that we don't have 4.5 billion years, but much closer to 4.5 THOUSAND years, before this becomes a noticiable and increasingly serious problem.

28 posted on 05/28/2002 5:42:06 PM PDT by Ahban
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To: Poohbah
"2. How come Tom Ridge hasn't raised the alert condition to Orange? "

LOL!

29 posted on 05/28/2002 5:44:40 PM PDT by PatrioticAmerican
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To: philman_36;Fred Mertz
Interesting. Thought you might like it.
30 posted on 05/28/2002 5:45:46 PM PDT by AtticusX
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To: Thud
"This is also hundreds of millions to billions of years in the future."

Oh, I see! Billions, not millions.
Whew! You had me worried for a moment there.

31 posted on 05/28/2002 5:51:45 PM PDT by avg_freeper
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Comment #32 Removed by Moderator

To: vannrox
"But do not panic yet. "Very soon" could mean hundreds of millions of years in the future"

The "Nike" wearing Y2K nutjobs that didn't jump aboard Hale-Bobbit might find use for their freeze dried foods yet!!!! Just have them make sure the shelf life is a couple of million years. :-)

33 posted on 05/28/2002 6:33:22 PM PDT by MJY1288
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To: vannrox
I just hope it goes off at night, I want to see the light show!

Eastern time, mind you...

34 posted on 05/28/2002 6:41:25 PM PDT by RaceBannon
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To: callisto
Thanks for setting the record straight, in other words this is cheese.

Or A KORANS DR MINTS, which is what Karin Sandstrom's name comes out to playing with the anagram server. ;)

35 posted on 05/28/2002 6:47:26 PM PDT by DemoSmear
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To: vannrox
And that is just as well, because we are only 150 light years away from HR 8210 at present

If its 150 light years away it could have gone Supernova during the Civil War and we wouldn’t know it yet

(and some freepers will blame that on Lincoln too;)

36 posted on 05/28/2002 6:47:46 PM PDT by tophat9000
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To: Ahban
Soon, the Earth will remove so much CO2 that plant life will be reduced.

What, no more salad bars? What will the veg heads do then?

37 posted on 05/28/2002 6:49:49 PM PDT by DemoSmear
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To: Salgak
"high-speed gases, moving at significant fractions of the speed of light. Just the thing to rip the atmosphere off of a seared planet."

Aw heck,that happens around here ever time Ah makes chili>

38 posted on 05/28/2002 7:00:02 PM PDT by philetus
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To: vannrox
If it did let fly, the high-energy electromagnetic radiation and cosmic rays it released would destroy Earth's ozone layer within minutes, giving life little chance of survival.

Isn't it a coincidence that Harvard published this article on the very same day that we find out:
Ozone Hole to Mend itself by 2040 according to Japanese Scientists...hmmmm? (^:

39 posted on 05/28/2002 7:00:26 PM PDT by Ragtime Cowgirl
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To: jimtorr; vannrox
I tend to think that the letter from Karin deploring the bonehead reporter is genuine. I especially liked her last note of ignoring reporters. That's how I know she is still a student.

Once she is a full professor she'll understand that reporters are very useful in keeping the grant money flowing. A typical feminist sociologist would correctly understand that this problem will keep her in grant money for 300 million years.

40 posted on 05/28/2002 7:03:45 PM PDT by texas booster
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To: vannrox
DUMP DAVI$



GO SIMON



SEMPER FI


GraYout's BraiN on November 6th

41 posted on 05/28/2002 7:48:58 PM PDT by NormsRevenge
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To: montag813
Let's hope so. Mankind has outlived its usefulness.

Are you included in that assessment, or is there some special reason you should be spared?

42 posted on 05/28/2002 7:53:13 PM PDT by Denver Ditdat
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To: AtticusX
Interesting indeed. I did like it. And your thoughts on reply 9, the refutation?
43 posted on 05/28/2002 11:22:40 PM PDT by philman_36
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To: montag813
Mankind has outlived its usefulness.

Speak for yourself.

44 posted on 05/28/2002 11:32:52 PM PDT by Interesting Times
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To: Ragtime Cowgirl
Good catch!
45 posted on 05/29/2002 8:42:31 AM PDT by callisto
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To: montag813
Mankind isn't about "usefulness".
46 posted on 05/29/2002 8:46:55 AM PDT by Romulus
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To: montag813
Let's hope so. Mankind has outlived its usefulness.

Not quite: Individual men have outlived their usefulness.

47 posted on 05/29/2002 8:50:15 AM PDT by Lazamataz
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To: vannrox
If it did let fly, the high-energy electromagnetic radiation and cosmic rays it released would destroy Earth's ozone layer within minutes, giving life little chance of survival.

The article also said it was 150 light years away. Somehow I don't think "within minutes" is very accurate.

48 posted on 05/29/2002 8:53:48 AM PDT by ShadowAce
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To: vannrox
Most supernovae occur when large stars run out of fuel and then collapse under their own weight. As atoms in the star are squeezed together, they rebound outwards, blowing off energy in a dazzling and dangerous display lasting several weeks.

If that's all the guy is worried about, we've got no problems at all; it turns out, that's not the way stars work:

Plasma physics and electric sun


49 posted on 05/29/2002 9:53:14 AM PDT by medved
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To: avg_freeper
Oh, I see! Billions, not millions. Whew! You had me worried for a moment there.

Millions, billions ... whatever. Just to be safe, let's keep Strom Thurmond in office so that we'll have the "experienced leadership" we need when this deadly event does unfold.

50 posted on 05/29/2002 11:01:05 AM PDT by ArneFufkin
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