Saturday, March 29, 2014

Death Stars and Gamma Ray Bursts

Today on Far Future Horizons we explore a very real cosmic danger and a devastating Extinction Level Event  (E.L.E.) facing us from the depths of space that could potentially wipe out humanity and our entire biosphere. Namely, Death Stars and the Gamma Ray Bursts associated with them.

Gamma ray bursts are the most luminous electromagnetic events in the universe since the Big Bang.

They are flashes of gamma rays emanating from seemingly random places in deep space at random times. The duration of a gamma-ray burst is typically a few seconds, but can range from a few milliseconds to several minutes, and the initial burst is usually followed by a longer-lived "afterglow" emitting at longer wavelengths (X-ray, ultraviolet, optical, infrared, and radio). Gamma-ray bursts are detected by orbiting satellites about two to three times per week, but the number of GRBs that could be observed from Earth is about three times this and is currently limited by the efficiency of the instruments.

Drawing of a massive star collapsing to form a black hole. Energy released as jets along the axis of rotation forms a gamma ray burst that lasts from a few milliseconds to minutes. Such an event within several thousand light years of Earth could disrupt the biosphere by wiping out half of the ozone layer, creating nitrogen dioxide and potentially cause a mass extinction.

Most observed GRBs appear to be collimated emissions caused by the collapse of the core of a rapidly spinning, massive star into a black hole. All known Gamma Ray Bursts originate from outside our own galaxy; though a related class of phenomena, SGR flares, are associated with Galactic Magnetars. Thus the sources of most GRBs are billions of light years away.

It was reported in March, 2008 that our planet currently lies in the line of sight of such a star designated WR-104, a mere 8,000 light years away in the constellation of Sagittarius, roughly a quarter of the way to the center of the Milky Way Galaxy.

Even whole galaxies may be a source of potentially lethal gamma blasts. The discovery of Death Star Galaxy in the binary galaxy system known as 3C321 was announced by NASA back in December 18, 2007. In this system two galaxies are in orbit around one another. A supermassive black hole at the core of the system's larger galaxy is spewing a jet in the direction of its smaller companion.

The "Death Star" Galaxy

If such an event happen in our corner of the Milky Way the gamma ray blast would strip away the ozone layer and generate chemical smog, producing a widespread chill that grips the Earth. And the associated electromagnetic pulse will zap all of our electronics.

How would humankind and the entire biosphere hold up in the face of such a global catastrophe and how can we hope to defend ourselves in the face of such a devastating danger? Today’s feature videos highlight these awesome but, potentially deadly phenomena.

The port city of Portsmouth , North Carolina  being hit by a Gamma Ray Burst

The Universe - Death Stars

Death stars are in the final stage of life before they explode into a supernova and, occasionally, the biggest blast in the universe--the gamma ray burst (GRB). One death star, named WR104, lurks 8,000 light-years from Earth and some believe its GRB arrow is aimed directly at us. A death star galaxy named 3C321 is a terrifying vision of what could one day befall the Milky Way galaxy: a companion galaxy's black hole is hammering it with a constant blast of high-energy particles, wreaking havoc with its celestial bodies.

Mega Disasters - Gamma Ray Burst

Scientists believe gamma ray bursts were responsible for a mass extinction 450 million years ago. The gamma rays strip away the ozone layer and generate chemical smog, producing a widespread chill that grips the Earth. An expected electromagnetic pulse will zap all of our electronics. How will our modern cities hold up in the face of a such a global catastrophe?

The Universe is available on DVD from and the History Channel’s online store.
The acclaimed documentary series Mega Disasters is available on DVD from and the History Channel’s online store.

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