Earth 'to be wiped out' by supernova explosion
Published 07/01/2010 | 14:35
The Earth could soon be wiped out by the explosion of a star more than 3,000 light years away, according to American scientists.
The star, called T Pyxidis, is set to self-destruct in an explosion called a supernova with the force of 20 billion billion billion megatons of TNT.
Although the star is thought to be around 3,260 light-years away – a fairly short distance in galactic terms – the blast from the thermonuclear explosion could strip away the Earth's ozone layer, the scientists said.
Astronomers from Villanova University, Philadelphia, in the US, said the International Ultraviolet Explorer satellite has shown them that T Pyxidis is really two stars, one called a white dwarf that is sucking in gas and steadily growing. When it reaches a critical mass it will blow itself to pieces.
It will become as bright as all the other stars in the galaxy put together, they said. The Hubble space telescope has photographed the star preparing for its big bang with a series of smaller blasts or "burps", called novas.
These explosions came regularly about every 20 years from 1890 – but stopped after 1967.
So the next blast is nearly 20 years overdue, said scientists Edward M Sion, Patrick Godon and Timothy McClain at the American Astronomical Society in Washington.
Robin Scagell, vice-president of the UK's Society for Popular Astronomy, said: "The star may certainly became a supernova soon – but soon could still be a long way off so don't have nightmares."