Exploding Stars Are Rare—but if One Was Close Enough, It Could Threaten Life on Earth

Johannes Kepler observed the last supernova in the Milky Way in 1604, so in a statistical sense, the next one is overdue.

Chris Impey: Professor of Astronomy, University of Arizona

Chris Impey at Singlarity Hub: Stars like the sun are remarkably constant. They vary in brightness by only 0.1 percent over years and decades, thanks to the fusion of hydrogen into helium that powers them. This process will keep the sun shining steadily for about 5 billion more years, but when stars exhaust their nuclear fuel, their deaths can lead to pyrotechnics.

The sun will eventually die by growing large and then condensing into a type of star called a white dwarf. But stars over eight times more massive than the sun die violently in an explosion called a supernova.

Supernovae happen across the Milky Way only a few times a century, and these violent explosions are usually remote enough that people here on Earth don’t notice. For a dying star to have any effect on life on our planet, it would have to go supernova within 100 light years from Earth.

I’m an astronomer who studies cosmology and black holes.

In my writing about cosmic endings, I’ve described the threat posed by stellar cataclysms such as supernovae and related phenomena such as gamma-ray bursts. Most of these cataclysms are remote, but when they occur closer to home they can pose a threat to life on Earth.

The Death of a Massive Star

Very few stars are massive enough to die in a supernova. But when one does, it briefly rivals the brightness of billions of stars. At one supernova per 50 years, and with 100 billion galaxies in the universe, somewhere in the universe a supernova explodes every hundredth of a second…

More here.