What Terrors Lurk In The Hearts Of Stars

Some pretty spectacular stuff happens ‘out there’. Like a star getting eaten by a black hole.

Outer space is filled with a lot of space.  And within this great expanse of space are perils the likes we cannot comprehend here on Earth.  Perils that make asteroids look like nerf balls.  In fact, if not for asteroids dinosaurs would probably still reign supreme, and mammals would have remained more akin to rodents, and we would have no giraffes, elephants, or even Homo Sapiens.  Let’s all take a moment to be thankful for the massive rock hurled by the sky god into Earth, that we mammals might evolve into primates of the likes that are even now, as we speak, choking the Earth with pollution.

Putting asteroids to the side, let’s explore some of the more impressive death sentences that could be hurled upon us by the cosmos.

The Neutron Star

First off, if you want to dig your heels into the science of it, clicking here is a good start.  Don’t be hasty though, there’s good stuff on the way right here in this article.  We’ll cover Supernovas shortly, but to be concise, a Neutron Star is but one of the destructive heavenly bodies left in the wake of a giant star collapsing in on itself and bursting through space in a cataclysmic explosion on the scale that can tear apart nearby solar systems.

Neutron stars are exceedingly dense.  To give an example, a Neutron star might be a mere 12 kilometers across, yet have the density of multiple solar masses – a solar mass being equivalent to the mass of our Sun.  That makes even a sugar cube of a Neutron star heavier than an airplane.  Trying to pick up just a thimble full would be a feat too extravagant for a human to consider.  Interestingly enough, the super novae can fling a Neutron Star out into space, where it will tear apart any solar system it passes through.  Perhaps only a black hole could stop it.  I know exactly what you’re thinking now, ‘what if a Neutron Star is headed towards us right now?’  The only logical thing to dwell upon at this point, really.  Fortunately there’s a long science video you can watch right below, tackling that very same question.

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We’ve already touched on supernovae, so we may as well explore their big brother, Hypernovas.  Quite simply, a hypernova is a supernova, but far more intense, up to a hundred times brighter and more destructive.  This requires a Star over 30 solar masses dying, collapsing in on its iron core, and bursting outwards in a blinding light that can fill the night sky from millions of light years away, and decimate entire regions of a galaxy.

It should be noted that supernovas and hypernovas, while absolutely horrifying if you’re trying to outpace one in a millenium falcon, are the reason why we’re alive.  These intense explosions fuse heavier elements together that are essential to human life, but can not form in the center of stars, for even they are not hot enough to fuse elements heavier than iron.  Let’s all take a moment to thank the billions of stars that have erupted on cataclysmic scales, perhaps taking out civilizations far superior to our own, that lead to the formation of our solar system.  Also it’s fun to watch explosions, so I’ve placed a short one below.

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Super Massive Black Holes

Everyone is familiar with boring regular black holes – or stellar black holes – which have the mere density of 30 solar masses or so.  The range is quite wide, but either way, they can swallow planets and Stars alike.  But that’s not so impressive, not compared to a super massive black hole.  These cosmic Juggernauts can have the density of millions, if not billions of solar masses, and often dwell at the center of a galaxy.  We know there’s one 25,000 light years from us in the center of our own galaxy, and cosmologists have reason to believe that most large galaxies have super massive black holes churning at their center.

In a typical black hole, if you jump in, you’ll get spaghettified quite quickly.  That means the gravity pulling at your legs will differentiate enough from the gravity at your head, that eventually even your atoms will be ripped apart, sucked into the vortex of darkness from which not even light can escape.  But with a super massive black hole it’s different.

You’ll actually have some moments as you approach the event horizon before you’re utterly destroyed, a chance to marvel at one of nature’s greatest spectacles.  I don’t think it’s worth it personally – the journey, and the terrifyingly awesome fate – but maybe one day in the future terminally ill patients will have that opportunity.  In such a scenario, many might choose to go out in such a brilliant fashion.  It would be expensive though, so only the rich will get to die by falling into super massive black holes.

The Quasar

A quasar is the most powerful force in the Universe since the big bang.  Imagine a super massive black hole eating an entire galaxy, devouring it as the excess energy and radiation is spewed out into interstellar space for millions of light years, bathing anything it comes in contact with deadly radiation.  If a Quasar went off anywhere remotely near to us in the Milky Way, it would destroy the magnetic field generated by the Earth’s core, and kill us all.

The Pulsar

Think Neutron star, but smaller, and far more dense, and spinning at over 30 cycles per second.  The radiation emitted from these stars will kill you and everyone you know if you get anywhere close.  And close is a long way away when you’re talking about a pulsar.  Cosmologists can note them in the night sky, blinking rapidly as they spin at incredibly speeds, generating a gravitational force second perhaps only to a black hole.  Incredibly enough planets can actually exist around pulsars, though I wouldn’t jump to conclusions that they’re habitable.

There’s lots of other terrors lurking in the cosmos we could explore, but really this article is just to get you excited enough to watch the video below, Journey To The Edge Of The Universe.  It’s long and epic, and covers everything mentioned in this article and more, only it has lots of cool imagery to make it exciting.  It takes a while before they get out of our own solar system, and then the fun begins, so if you’re not interested in your own cosmic backyard, you could always just jump further into the video.

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