Near-Earth supernova

A near-Earth supernova is an explosion resulting from the death of a star that occurs close enough to the Earth (roughly less than 10 to 300 parsecs (30 to 1000 light-years) away[2]) to have noticeable effects on Earth's biosphere.

Historically, each near-Earth supernova explosion has been associated with a global warming of around 3–4 °C (5–7 °F). An estimated 20 supernovae explosions have happened within 300 pc of the Earth over the last 11 million years. Type II supernovae explosions are expected to occur in active star-forming regions, with 12 such OB associations being located within 650 pc of the Earth. At present, there are six near-Earth supernova candidates within 300 pc.[3]

Crab Nebula
The Crab Nebula is a pulsar wind nebula associated with the 1054 supernova. It is located about 6,500 light-years from the Earth.[1]

Effects on Earth

On average, a supernova explosion occurs within 10 parsecs (33 light-years) of the Earth every 240 million years.[a] Gamma rays are responsible for most of the adverse effects a supernova can have on a living terrestrial planet. In Earth's case, gamma rays induce radiolysis of diatomic N2 and O2 in the upper atmosphere, converting molecular nitrogen and oxygen into nitrogen oxides, depleting the ozone layer enough to expose the surface to harmful solar and cosmic radiation (mainly ultra-violet). Phytoplankton and reef communities would be particularly affected, which could severely deplete the base of the marine food chain.[4][5]

Odenwald[6] discusses the possible effects of a Betelgeuse supernova on the Earth and on human space travel, especially the effects of the stream of charged particles that would reach the Earth about 100,000 years later than the initial light and other electromagnetic radiation produced by the explosion.

Risk by supernova type

Candidates within 300 pc[3]
Star designation Distance
(pc)
Mass
(M)
IK Pegasi 46 1.65/1.15
Spica 80 10.25/7.0
Alpha Lupi 141 10.1
Antares 169 12.4/10
Betelgeuse 197 7.7–20
Rigel 264 18

Speculation as to the effects of a nearby supernova on Earth often focuses on large stars as Type II supernova candidates. Several prominent stars within a few hundred light years of the Sun are candidates for becoming supernovae in as little as a millennium. Although they would be spectacular to look at, were these "predictable" supernovae to occur, they are thought to have little potential to affect Earth.

It is estimated that a Type II supernova closer than eight parsecs (26 light-years) would destroy more than half of the Earth's ozone layer.[7] Such estimates are based on atmospheric modeling and the measured radiation flux from SN 1987A, a Type II supernova in the Large Magellanic Cloud. Estimates of the rate of supernova occurrence within 10 parsecs of the Earth vary from 0.05–0.5 per billion years[5] to 10 per billion years.[8] Several studies assume that supernovae are concentrated in the spiral arms of the galaxy, and that supernova explosions near the Sun usually occur during the approximately 10 million years that the Sun takes to pass through one of these regions.[7] Examples of relatively near supernovae are the Vela Supernova Remnant (c. 800 ly, c. 12,000 years ago) and Geminga (c. 550 ly, c. 300,000 years ago).

Type Ia supernovae are thought to be potentially the most dangerous if they occur close enough to the Earth. Because Type Ia supernovae arise from dim, common white dwarf stars, it is likely that a supernova that could affect the Earth will occur unpredictably and take place in a star system that is not well studied. The closest known candidate is IK Pegasi.[9] It is currently estimated, however, that by the time it could become a threat, its velocity in relation to the Solar System would have carried IK Pegasi to a safe distance.[7]

Past events

Evidence from daughter products of short-lived radioactive isotopes shows that a nearby supernova helped determine the composition of the Solar System 4.5 billion years ago, and may even have triggered the formation of this system.[10] Supernova production of heavy elements over astronomic periods of time ultimately made the chemistry of life on Earth possible.

Past supernovae might be detectable on Earth in the form of metal isotope signatures in rock strata. Subsequently, iron-60 enrichment has been reported in deep-sea rock of the Pacific Ocean by researchers from the Technical University of Munich.[11][12][13] Twenty-three atoms of this iron isotope were found in the top 2 cm of crust (this layer corresponds to times from 13.4 million years ago to the present).[13] It is estimated that the supernova must have occurred in the last 5 million years or else it would have had to happen very close to the solar system to account for so much iron-60 still being here. A supernova occurring so close would have probably caused a mass extinction, which did not happen in that time frame.[14] The quantity of iron seems to indicate that the supernova was less than 30 parsecs away. On the other hand, the authors estimate the frequency of supernovae at a distance less than D (for reasonably small D) as around (D/10 pc)3 per billion years, which gives a probability of only around 5% for a supernova within 30 pc in the last 5 million years. They point out that the probability may be higher because the Solar System is entering the Orion Arm of the Milky Way.

Gamma ray bursts from "dangerously close" supernova explosions occur two or more times per billion years, and this has been proposed as the cause of the end Ordovician extinction, which resulted in the death of nearly 60% of the oceanic life on Earth.[15]

In 1998 a supernova remnant, RX J0852.0-4622, was found in front (apparently) of the larger Vela Supernova Remnant.[16] Gamma rays from the decay of titanium-44 (half-life about 60 years) were independently discovered emanating from it,[17] showing that it must have exploded fairly recently (perhaps around the year 1200), but there is no historical record of it. The flux of gamma rays and X-rays indicates that the supernova was relatively close to us (perhaps 200 parsecs or 660 ly). If so, this is an unexpected event because supernovae less than 200 parsecs away are estimated to occur less than once per 100,000 years.[13]

See also

Footnotes

  1. ^ Since a radius of 100 light years contains approximately 27.8 times as much volume as one of 33 light years, a supernova should occur within a radius of 100 light years from Earth approximately once every 8.6 million years. A supernova would occur within a radius of 200 light years approximately once every million years, within 500 light years every 69,000 years, and within 1,000 light years roughly every 8,625 years.

References

  1. ^ Kaplan, D. L.; Chatterjee, S.; Gaensler, B. M.; Anderson, J. (2008). "A Precise Proper Motion for the Crab Pulsar, and the Difficulty of Testing Spin-Kick Alignment for Young Neutron Stars". The Astrophysical Journal. 677 (2): 1201–1215. arXiv:0801.1142. Bibcode:2008ApJ...677.1201K. doi:10.1086/529026.
  2. ^ Joshua Sokol (Jan 14, 2016). "What If History's Brightest Supernova Exploded In Earth's Backyard?". The Atlantic.
  3. ^ a b Firestone, R. B. (July 2014). "Observation of 23 Supernovae That Exploded <300 pc from Earth during the past 300 kyr". The Astrophysical Journal. 789 (1): 11. Bibcode:2014ApJ...789...29F. doi:10.1088/0004-637X/789/1/29. 29.
  4. ^ Ellis, J.; Schramm, D. N. (1993). "Could a nearby supernova explosion have caused a mass extinction?". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 92 (1): 235–8. arXiv:hep-ph/9303206. Bibcode:1993hep.ph....3206E. doi:10.1073/pnas.92.1.235. PMC 42852. PMID 11607506.
  5. ^ a b Whitten, R. C.; Borucki, W. J.; Wolfe, J. H.; Cuzzi, J. (1976). "Effect of nearby supernova explosions on atmospheric ozone". Nature. 263 (5576): 398–400. Bibcode:1976Natur.263..398W. doi:10.1038/263398a0.
  6. ^ "The Betelgeuse Supernova". 2015-02-02.
  7. ^ a b c Gehrels, N.; et al. (2003). "Ozone Depletion from Nearby Supernovae". The Astrophysical Journal. 585 (2): 1169–1176. arXiv:astro-ph/0211361. Bibcode:2003ApJ...585.1169G. doi:10.1086/346127.
  8. ^ Clark, D. H.; McCrea, W. H.; Stephenson, F. R. (1977). "Frequency of nearby supernovae and climactic and biological catastrophes". Nature. 265 (5592): 318–319. Bibcode:1977Natur.265..318C. doi:10.1038/265318a0.
  9. ^ Garlick, M. (March 2007). "The Supernova Menace". Sky & Telescope. 113 (3): 3.26. Bibcode:2007S&T...113c..26G.
  10. ^ Taylor, G. J. (2003-05-21). "Triggering the Formation of the Solar System". Planetary Science Research. Retrieved 2006-10-20.
  11. ^ Staff (Fall 2005). "Researchers Detect 'Near Miss' Supernova Explosion". University of Illinois College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. p. 17. Archived from the original on 2006-09-01. Retrieved 2007-02-01.
  12. ^ Knie, K.; et al. (2004). "60Fe Anomaly in a Deep-Sea Manganese Crust and Implications for a Nearby Supernova Source". Physical Review Letters. 93 (17): 171103–171106. Bibcode:2004PhRvL..93q1103K. doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.93.171103. PMID 15525065.
  13. ^ a b c Fields, B. D.; Ellis, J. (1999). "On Deep-Ocean Fe-60 as a Fossil of a Near-Earth Supernova". New Astronomy. 4 (6): 419–430. arXiv:astro-ph/9811457. Bibcode:1999NewA....4..419F. doi:10.1016/S1384-1076(99)00034-2.
  14. ^ Fields & Ellis, p. 10
  15. ^ Melott, A.; et al. (2004). "Did a gamma-ray burst initiate the late Ordovician mass extinction?". International Journal of Astrobiology. 3 (2): 55–61. arXiv:astro-ph/0309415. Bibcode:2004IJAsB...3...55M. doi:10.1017/S1473550404001910.
  16. ^ Aschenbach, B. (1998). "Discovery of a young nearby supernova remnant". Nature. 396 (6707): 141–142. Bibcode:1998Natur.396..141A. doi:10.1038/24103.
  17. ^ Iyudin, A. F.; et al. (1998). "Emission from 44Ti associated with a previously unknown Galactic supernova". Nature. 396 (6707): 142–144. Bibcode:1998Natur.396..142I. doi:10.1038/24106.
Future of Earth

The biological and geological future of Earth can be extrapolated based upon the estimated effects of several long-term influences. These include the chemistry at Earth's surface, the rate of cooling of the planet's interior, the gravitational interactions with other objects in the Solar System, and a steady increase in the Sun's luminosity. An uncertain factor in this extrapolation is the ongoing influence of technology introduced by humans, such as climate engineering, which could cause significant changes to the planet. The current Holocene extinction is being caused by technology and the effects may last for up to five million years. In turn, technology may result in the extinction of humanity, leaving the planet to gradually return to a slower evolutionary pace resulting solely from long-term natural processes.Over time intervals of hundreds of millions of years, random celestial events pose a global risk to the biosphere, which can result in mass extinctions. These include impacts by comets or asteroids, and the possibility of a massive stellar explosion, called a supernova, within a 100-light-year radius of the Sun. Other large-scale geological events are more predictable. Milankovitch theory predicts that the planet will continue to undergo glacial periods at least until the Quaternary glaciation comes to an end. These periods are caused by variations in eccentricity, axial tilt, and precession of the Earth's orbit. As part of the ongoing supercontinent cycle, plate tectonics will probably result in a supercontinent in 250–350 million years. Some time in the next 1.5–4.5 billion years, the axial tilt of the Earth may begin to undergo chaotic variations, with changes in the axial tilt of up to 90°.The luminosity of the Sun will steadily increase, resulting in a rise in the solar radiation reaching the Earth. This will result in a higher rate of weathering of silicate minerals, which will cause a decrease in the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In about 600 million years from now, the level of carbon dioxide will fall below the level needed to sustain C3 carbon fixation photosynthesis used by trees. Some plants use the C4 carbon fixation method, allowing them to persist at carbon dioxide concentrations as low as 10 parts per million. However, the long-term trend is for plant life to die off altogether. The extinction of plants will be the demise of almost all animal life, since plants are the base of the food chain on Earth.In about one billion years, the solar luminosity will be 10% higher than at present. This will cause the atmosphere to become a "moist greenhouse", resulting in a runaway evaporation of the oceans. As a likely consequence, plate tectonics will come to an end, and with them the entire carbon cycle. Following this event, in about 2–3 billion years, the planet's magnetic dynamo may cease, causing the magnetosphere to decay and leading to an accelerated loss of volatiles from the outer atmosphere. Four billion years from now, the increase in the Earth's surface temperature will cause a runaway greenhouse effect, heating the surface enough to melt it. By that point, all life on the Earth will be extinct. The most probable fate of the planet is absorption by the Sun in about 7.5 billion years, after the star has entered the red giant phase and expanded beyond the planet's current orbit.

History of supernova observation

The known history of supernova observation goes back to 185 AD, when supernova SN 185 appeared, the oldest appearance of a supernova recorded by humankind. Several additional supernovae within the Milky Way galaxy have been recorded since that time, with SN 1604 being the most recent supernova to be observed in this galaxy.Since the development of the telescope, the field of supernova discovery has expanded to other galaxies. These occurrences provide important information on the distances of galaxies. Successful models of supernova behavior have also been developed, and the role of supernovae in the star formation process is now increasingly understood.

Ordovician–Silurian extinction events

The Ordovician–Silurian extinction events, when combined, are the second-largest of the five major extinction events in Earth's history in terms of percentage of genera that became extinct. This event greatly affected marine communities, which caused the disappearance of one third of all brachiopod and bryozoan families, as well as numerous groups of conodonts, trilobites, and graptolites. The Ordovician–Silurian extinction occurred during the Hirnantian stage of the Ordovician Period and the subsequent Rhuddanian stage of the Silurian Period. The last event is dated in the interval of 455 to 430 million years ago, lasting from the Middle Ordovician to Early Silurian, thus including the extinction period. This event was the first of the big five Phanerozoic events and was the first to significantly affect animal-based communities.Almost all major taxonomic groups were affected during this extinction event. Extinction was global during this period, eliminating 49-60% of marine genera and nearly 85% of marine species.Brachiopods, bivalves, echinoderms, bryozoans and corals were particularly affected. Before the late Ordovician cooling, temperatures were relatively warm and it is the suddenness of the climate changes and the elimination of habitats due to sea-level fall that are believed to have precipitated the extinctions. The falling sea level disrupted or eliminated habitats along the continental shelves. Evidence for the glaciation was found through deposits in the Sahara Desert. A combination of lowering of sea level and glacially driven cooling were likely driving agents for the Ordovician mass extinction.

Outline of astronomy

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to astronomy:

Astronomy – studies the universe beyond Earth, including its formation and development, and the evolution, physics, chemistry, meteorology, and motion of celestial objects (such as galaxies, planets, etc.) and phenomena that originate outside the atmosphere of Earth (such as the cosmic background radiation).

SN 1006

SN 1006 was a supernova that is likely the brightest observed stellar event in recorded history, reaching an estimated −7.5 visual magnitude, and exceeding roughly sixteen times the brightness of Venus. Appearing between April 30 and May 1, 1006 AD in the constellation of Lupus, this "guest star" was described by observers across the modern day countries of China, Japan, Iraq, Egypt, and the continent of Europe, and possibly recorded in North American petroglyphs. Some reports state it was clearly visible in the daytime. Modern astronomers now consider its distance from Earth to be about 7,200 light-years.

Supernova

A supernova ( plural: supernovae or supernovas, abbreviations: SN and SNe) is a transient astronomical event that occurs during the last stellar evolutionary stages of the life of a massive star, whose dramatic and catastrophic destruction is marked by one final, titanic explosion. This causes the sudden appearance of a "new" bright star, before slowly fading from sight over several weeks or months or years.

Supernovae are more energetic than novae. In Latin, nova means "new", referring astronomically to what appears to be a temporary new bright star. Adding the prefix "super-" distinguishes supernovae from ordinary novae, which are far less luminous. The word supernova was coined by Walter Baade and Fritz Zwicky in 1931.

Only three Milky Way, naked-eye supernova events have been observed during the last thousand years, though many have been observed in other galaxies. The most recent directly observed supernova in the Milky Way was Kepler's Supernova in 1604, but the remnants of recent supernovae have also been found. Observations of supernovae in other galaxies suggest they occur on average about three times every century in the Milky Way, and that any galactic supernova would almost certainly be observable with modern astronomical telescopes.

Supernovae may expel much, if not all, of the material away from a star at velocities up to 30,000 km/s or 10% of the speed of light. This drives an expanding and fast-moving shock wave into the surrounding interstellar medium, and in turn, sweeping up an expanding shell of gas and dust, which is observed as a supernova remnant. Supernovae inherently create, fuse and eject chemical elements produced by supernova nucleosynthesis, and also play a significant role in enriching the interstellar medium with the heavier atomic mass elements. Furthermore, the expanding shock waves from supernovae can trigger the formation of new stars. Supernova remnants are expected to accelerate a large fraction of galactic primary cosmic rays, but direct evidence for cosmic ray production was found only in a few of them so far. They are also potentially strong galactic sources of gravitational waves.Theoretical studies indicate that most supernovae are triggered by one of two basic mechanisms: the sudden re-ignition of nuclear fusion in a degenerate star or the sudden gravitational collapse of a massive star's core. In the first instance, a degenerate white dwarf may accumulate sufficient material from a binary companion, either through accretion or via a merger, to raise its core temperature enough to trigger runaway nuclear fusion, completely disrupting the star. In the second case, the core of a massive star may undergo sudden gravitational collapse, releasing gravitational potential energy as a supernova. While some observed supernovae are more complex than these two simplified theories, the astrophysical collapse mechanics have been established and accepted by most astronomers for some time.

Owing to the wide range of astrophysical consequences of these events, astronomers now deem supernova research, across the fields of stellar and galactic evolution, as an especially important area for investigation.

Supernova Early Warning System

The SuperNova Early Warning System (SNEWS) is a network of neutrino detectors designed to give early warning to astronomers in the event of a supernova in the Milky Way, our home galaxy, or in a nearby galaxy such as the Large Magellanic Cloud or the Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy.

As of October 2018, SNEWS has not issued any supernova alerts. This is unsurprising because supernovae appear to be rare: the most recent known supernova remnant in the Milky Way was around the turn of the 20th century, and the most recent supernova confirmed to have been observed was Kepler's Supernova in 1604.

Powerful bursts of electron neutrinos (νe) with typical energies of the order of 10 MeV and duration of the order of 10 seconds are produced in the core of a red giant star as it collapses on itself via the "neutronization" reaction, i.e. fusion of protons and electrons into neutrons: pe−→nνe. It is expected that the neutrinos are emitted well before the light from the supernova peaks, so in principle neutrino detectors could give advance warning to astronomers that a supernova has occurred and may soon be visible. The neutrino pulse from supernova 1987A arrived 3 hours before the associated photons – but SNEWS was not yet active and it was not recognised as a supernova event until after the photons arrived. However, SNEWS is not able to give advance warning of a type Ia supernova, as they are not expected to produce significant numbers of neutrinos. Type Ia supernovae, caused by a runaway nuclear fusion reaction in a white dwarf star, are thought to account for roughly one-third of all supernovae.There are currently seven neutrino detector members of SNEWS: Borexino, Daya Bay, KamLAND, HALO, IceCube, LVD, and Super-Kamiokande. SNEWS began operation prior to 2004, with three members (Super-Kamiokande, LVD, and SNO). The Sudbury Neutrino Observatory is no longer active as it is being upgraded to its successor program SNO+.

The detectors send reports of a possible supernova to a computer at Brookhaven National Laboratory to identify a supernova. If the SNEWS computer identifies signals from two detectors within 10 seconds, the computer will send a supernova alert to observatories around the world to study the supernova. The SNEWS mailing list is open-subscription, and the general public is allowed to sign up; however, the SNEWS collaboration encourages amateur astronomers to instead use Sky and Telescope magazine's AstroAlert service, which is linked to SNEWS.

Vela Supernova Remnant

The Vela supernova remnant is a supernova remnant in the southern constellation Vela. Its source Type II supernova exploded approximately 11,000–12,300 years ago (and was about 800 light-years away). The association of the Vela supernova remnant with the Vela pulsar, made by astronomers at the University of Sydney in 1968, was direct observational evidence that supernovae form neutron stars.

The Vela supernova remnant includes NGC 2736. It also overlaps the Puppis Supernova Remnant, which is four times more distant. Both the Puppis and Vela remnants are among the largest and brightest features in the X-ray sky.

The Vela supernova remnant (SNR) is one of the closest known to us. The Geminga pulsar is closer (and also resulted from a supernova), and in 1998 another near-Earth supernova remnant was discovered, RX J0852.0-4622, which from our point of view appears to be contained in the southeastern part of the Vela remnant. One estimate of its distance puts it only 200 parsecs away (about 650 ly), closer than the Vela remnant, and, surprisingly, it seems to have exploded much more recently, in the last thousand years, because it is still radiating gamma rays from the decay of titanium-44. This remnant was not seen earlier because in most wavelengths, it is lost because of the presence of the Vela remnant.

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