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View Full Version : What would a near-Earth supernova be like?



Roger E. Moore
2010-Jun-18, 05:06 AM
A few months ago, I became curious about the possible short-term and long-term effects of a near-Earth supernova. Part of my motivation was to create a sort of Internet guidebook for science-fiction and fanfiction writers, describing the likely consequences of having a Type 1a supernova occur within 20 lights years of the Earth. The result (offered to all under a Creative Commons Attribution license) is posted here:

http://www.theangstguy.com/supernova/shiningstar.html

The Creative Commons license allows anyone to use the material therein however they wish, so long as proper credit is offered as to the source. Money is irrelevant. Researching and developing the guidebook was reward enough for me.

From the Synopsis:


SHINING STAR is a science-fiction setting, mainly for writers of fanfiction but for professional writers as well. Rather than being an actual world, the setting is a timeline of events depicting a long-term disaster scenario with a science-based theme. The events occur on and around Earth in the writer's chosen world. The writer determines exactly when the event occurs and who the event affects.

A supernova erupts in Earth's immediate stellar neighborhood, very close to our Solar System and with no warning. This has nightmarish consequences for human civilization, not to mention the rest of the biosphere. The catastrophe unfolds in timed, specific stages, ranging from a multitude of events occurring within a single day to subtle events gradually manifesting themselves over many months or years. The very existence of terrestrial life down to the smallest microbe will repeatedly be placed in jeopardy. A description and chronology of the supernova disaster follows. Links are provided in the text to external websites providing additional information.

Please read through the Shining Star website and offer your thoughts on it here. Thank you for your time.

EDG
2010-Jun-18, 07:40 AM
Huh. Well, the scenario of Van Maanen's Star going supernova is extremely unlikely (I'd actually suggest using Sirius B myself. It's still ludicrously unlikely, but you could say that something weird happens to the orbit of Sirius B so that it gets close enough to Sirius A to start pulling matter off it, which would then ignite as regular Novae. Not sure if they'd have any effect on Earth, but you could then have some mass accretion to push B over the Chandrasekar limit and blow up as a Ia supernova? But that seems marginally more possible than Van Maanen's star suddenly deciding to explode). But if the effects are accurate, then we really are utterly boned if a star that close went supernova like that!

eburacum45
2010-Jun-18, 08:54 AM
I think this is a very well-researched site, and apart from the unlikely scenario of Van Maanen's star going up, it describes the effects of a nearby supernova very well. The data could also be useful in various SF scenarios if you want to describe a/ the effects of a realistic supernova candidate on a nearby colony world or b/ the effects of an artificially induced supernova on the Earth (or colony world). The information about cosmic rays and the shock wave(s) is very interesting.

Roger E. Moore
2010-Jun-18, 01:48 PM
Completely agree that Van Maanen's Star is unlikely to do this, but again, the scenario is intended for SF writing and for general information. Researching it was a blast. Another space-disaster site was created earlier (Daylight) but needs to be rewritten to disconnect it from its fanfiction origins. I'll post it here after it is fixed.

My main interest is storytelling, but the story should be as accurate as possible if it is science fiction and not fantasy. I have not seen any highly detailed description of supernova effects, though there are lots of articles describing elements of such a disaster. Assembling all the pieces was the fun part. (One of my sources is Dr. Philip Plait's Death from the Skies!, and I offer him my joyful thanks.)

I will have to update the Shining Star site later this year after checking the Internet for new information on type 1a supernovae.

Again, everyone is free to use this as you like, per the Creative Commons license. Hope it's good for you.

Romanus
2010-Jun-18, 11:50 PM
I can recommend Neil F. Comins's What if the Moon Didn't Exist?, which has a chapter on a hypothetical nearby supernova explosion.

Maha Vailo
2010-Jun-19, 01:32 AM
I'd be surprised if anything, let alone complex life, could survive that debacle.

I wonder what fossil evidence a close-range supernova blast would leave behind? Could it be possible that any of Earth's mass extinctions was caused by one?

- Maha Vailo

Roger E. Moore
2010-Jun-19, 02:59 AM
I can recommend Neil F. Comins's What if the Moon Didn't Exist?, which has a chapter on a hypothetical nearby supernova explosion.
I used that one as a resource. It was helpful. One of the quotes in the main webpage is taken from that supernova chapter.


I wonder what fossil evidence a close-range supernova blast would leave behind? Could it be possible that any of Earth's mass extinctions was caused by one?
The following was the only article I could find on that first question.

http://www.universetoday.com/2009/02/23/evidence-of-supernovae-found-in-ice-core-sample/

I guess we look for high quantities of nitrogen oxides in ice cores. And the Ordovician/Silurian extinction is thought by some to have resulted from a nearby gamma-ray burst, but it looks like the evidence actually favors the extinction as the result of continental drift.

http://www.theangstguy.com/supernova/star09.html

(from the Shining Star website)

Cougar
2010-Jun-19, 03:04 AM
I think this is a very well-researched site...

Well, I think this part is overstated:





"Keep in mind that the early discovery of widespread radiation exposure [from a supernova] is more likely to be seen as an act of war or terrorism than a natural event. At best, it might be thought to come from a nuclear-related accident. It will take time for even knowledgeable people to get a grip on what is happening, as the supernova's effects are so bizarre, widespread, and devastating."

We had (Vela) satellites in orbit 50 years ago that could make this distinction. They accidentally discovered gamma ray bursts, which are, thankfully, much more rare than supernovas.

Roger E. Moore
2010-Jun-19, 03:13 AM
I wonder what fossil evidence a close-range supernova blast would leave behind? Could it be possible that any of Earth's mass extinctions was caused by one?
Also found this, but I have no idea if it can be verified.

http://www.astrobio.net/pressrelease/1726/supernova-waves-rolled-over-mammoths


Well, I think this part is overstated:





"Keep in mind that the early discovery of widespread radiation exposure [from a supernova] is more likely to be seen as an act of war or terrorism than a natural event. At best, it might be thought to come from a nuclear-related accident. It will take time for even knowledgeable people to get a grip on what is happening, as the supernova's effects are so bizarre, widespread, and devastating."

We had (Vela) satellites in orbit 50 years ago that could make this distinction. They accidentally discovered gamma ray bursts, which are, thankfully, much more rare than supernovas.
Yes, but the radiation the Vela satellites detected was coming from space, not from the Earth itself. If I discover that I was recently exposed to a high level of ambient radiation in my earthly surroundings, radiation from a supernova is not going to be the first thing I think of.

baric
2010-Jun-19, 04:37 AM
Also found this, but I have no idea if it can be verified.

http://www.astrobio.net/pressrelease/1726/supernova-waves-rolled-over-mammoths


Yes, but the radiation the Vela satellites detected was coming from space, not from the Earth itself. If I discover that I was recently exposed to a high level of ambient radiation in my earthly surroundings, radiation from a supernova is not going to be the first thing I think of.

Unfortunately it's a moot debate as it is clear that your scenario is a rapid global extinction event. :(

eburacum45
2010-Jun-19, 10:17 AM
In the event of a nearby supernova explosion some people would look up 'effects of a nearby supernova' and find some or more of the resources you did. Ah, the benefits of a Worldwide Web in the face of impending doom.

Nereid
2010-Jun-19, 03:09 PM
A few points: there are, today, lots of spacecraft well outside the Earth's immediate vicinity. Depending on the timing, the delays in these going dead would provide a very precise estimate of the location of the SNe (this technique was used to pin down the location of GRBs, before spacecraft like Swift).

Also, again depending on the timing, various solar system objects would light up, one way or another (as the first wave of death hit them), and these could be seen by appropriately located observers. By the future date of your story, perhaps there would be quite a few robotic sky surveys, looking out for both GRBs and PHAs, perhaps one of which would find evidence of the first wave very quickly indeed).

Further possible early detections might include IceCube and other neutrino observatories (the first wave would produce a dramatic increase in atmospheric neutrinos), and various cosmic ray observatories (one located just to the night side might detect the intense increase on cosmic rays, triggered by so much gamma radiation of the atmosphere, close to the horizon).

Depending on the timing, there may be some limited geographic shielding by the Moon, from the first wave, on the dayside.

Mass extinction, yes; a sterile Earth, no. For starers, there are ecological systems that are essentially independent of both sunlight and living things elsewhere - the deep ocean hotspots are perhaps the best known. Then there are the bacteria and archaea living in various kinds of rocks, down to as much as 20 km. Some do depend on organic matter from surface dwelling critters, but many do not; and in any case, there'd be no shortage of organic matter from the surface, after the SNe.

Nereid
2010-Jun-21, 12:20 PM
One more thing: how will the Sun react?

The blast waves will, of course, wreck havoc with the solar wind, but that should have little impact on the Earth.

However, if, at any stage, the Sun's luminosity changes by more than ~1%, for more than a brief moment, there will be an impact on the Earth's climate. Have these impacts been factored in to the various scenarios?

Roger E. Moore
2010-Jun-21, 06:55 PM
One more thing: how will the Sun react?

The blast waves will, of course, wreck havoc with the solar wind, but that should have little impact on the Earth.

However, if, at any stage, the Sun's luminosity changes by more than ~1%, for more than a brief moment, there will be an impact on the Earth's climate. Have these impacts been factored in to the various scenarios?
No information was available on the effects of a supernova of any type on stars in their immediate neighborhood, except for references to a supernova in a double-star system that would likely blast the other star away into space. If anyone finds any information on this, it would be of great help. The supernova's impact on the sun was not factored in, as no such impact was discussed in any source.

filrabat
2010-Jun-21, 09:34 PM
Possible routes around the "no supernova-type stars in our neighborhood"

1. Tell them this is an alternate universe, with the only difference between this and our own being such a nearby star is present.

2. If time's not a factor, explain this is a plausible far future event.

The Vela Sattelites: I though they detected gamma ray bursts in the late 70s, not "50 years ago". But I could be wrong.

Nereid
2010-Jun-21, 09:40 PM
No information was available on the effects of a supernova of any type on stars in their immediate neighborhood, except for references to a supernova in a double-star system that would likely blast the other star away into space. If anyone finds any information on this, it would be of great help. The supernova's impact on the sun was not factored in, as no such impact was discussed in any source.
That's what I guessed; if it had already been discussed, somewhere, you'd have included it!

StupendousMan
2010-Jun-21, 11:19 PM
The Vela series of satellites began in 1963, and the first (known)
detection of celestial gamma-ray bursts occurred in 1967.

http://gtn.sonoma.edu/resources/history/index.php
http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/htmltest/jbonnell/www/grbhist.html

Roger E. Moore
2010-Jun-26, 02:15 AM
http://www.theangstguy.com/supernova/shiningstar.html

The Shining Star scenario has been revised, with some corrections and a number of new references. A possible new source of danger was also added, that being blue-enhanced light that disrupts circadian rhythms, but the only study I could locate about it discusses it in reference to core-collapse supernovae or hypernovae, not Type Ia bursts. Is there any documentation linking Type Ia supernovae to the production of large amounts of blue light? Is blue light shown on a B light curve?

http://www.livescience.com/space/scienceastronomy/080108-eta-carinae.html
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18199005

The above links are about the risks of blue light with certain types of supernovae.

LATE EDIT: Oh, think I got my answer:

http://iopscience.iop.org/0004-637X/530/2/757/39686.text.html

Blue light peaks at 20 days. Guess it might be a problem, though most sources say the supernova appear white at this time.

Roger E. Moore
2010-Jun-26, 09:48 PM
One more revision made to the scenario to correct many notes on the supernova's visual color. It's probably as good now as it will get, until someone writes a paper that makes the scenario useless. Until then, please enjoy the read.

KaiYeves
2010-Jun-27, 10:07 PM
I think your site is very detailed and well-researched! Kudos to you for putting so much time and effort into it and creating such an enthralling scenario! (I say this as a fan-fiction writer myself.)

Roger E. Moore
2010-Jun-27, 11:17 PM
I think your site is very detailed and well-researched! Kudos to you for putting so much time and effort into it and creating such an enthralling scenario! (I say this as a fan-fiction writer myself.)
Thank you! Working everything into story form seems to bring all the individual threads of catastrophe together as a whole that's easier to remember.

KaiYeves
2010-Jun-28, 08:20 PM
Space/astronomy-based fan-fiction is rather a niche, which is why I admire your work so much. I only wish there were similar guides for other topics related to writing space fan-fic! "How to Write First Contact" or "How to Realistically Create a Fictional Apollo/Shuttle/Any Program Mission", say.

Roger E. Moore
2010-Jun-29, 03:30 AM
Space/astronomy-based fan-fiction is rather a niche, which is why I admire your work so much. I only wish there were similar guides for other topics related to writing space fan-fic! "How to Write First Contact" or "How to Realistically Create a Fictional Apollo/Shuttle/Any Program Mission", say.
http://www.theangstguy.com/fanfics/everyhour.html

:)

KaiYeves
2010-Jun-29, 09:14 PM
http://www.theangstguy.com/fanfics/everyhour.html

:)
Wow. Just wow.

That was incredible.

(Two funny things, though...)

1) I'm not familiar with Daria, so I didn't realize it was a fan-fic until the end, and I thought you'd just chosen the names randomly!

2) It's really ironic that your story has Daria reciting Ulysses on a Constellation mission, because in my X-Men fan-fic here (http://www.bautforum.com/showthread.php/82128-Into-the-Cosmos?p=1729313#post1729313), the main character thinks of that same poem after the program is canceled. I guess Teresa and Daria are both very intelligent, and great minds think alike!

Roger E. Moore
2010-Jun-30, 09:11 PM
2) It's really ironic that your story has Daria reciting Ulysses on a Constellation mission, because in my X-Men fan-fic here (http://www.bautforum.com/showthread.php/82128-Into-the-Cosmos?p=1729313#post1729313), the main character thinks of that same poem after the program is canceled. I guess Teresa and Daria are both very intelligent, and great minds think alike!
Whoa, cool. Fanfic! Good stuff to read!

Oops. Um, should probably go back to talking about supernovae instead of fanfiction... lemme think....

KaiYeves
2010-Jun-30, 11:54 PM
Good point. Sorry, mods.

AtomicDog
2010-Jul-01, 02:02 AM
http://www.theangstguy.com/fanfics/everyhour.html

:)

I thought I read that story before! Small world, isn't it?

AtomicDog (aka echopapa)

astromark
2010-Jul-01, 04:39 AM
The subject of this page is extremely dire... to experience a all life extinction event is somewhat depressing...

To analyze the detail of the event is almost a morbid fascination. Paranoia. The thought of all of humanity dead or dieing...

Defiantly a subject for a mature mind., and then somewhat depressing... knowing of these things does serve to impart a felling of helplessness.

I can not see why you think that you are helping any aspiring writer... These facts and thoughts are yours.

If I were to write a work of fiction including such as this... I would research and write .. from my own minds eye... so to be my work...

Most of us have some ability to perceive and imagine...

Do you posses a morbid quest for catastrophic detail... Write the book,. Make the film.

Roger E. Moore
2010-Jul-02, 01:28 AM
I can not see why you think that you are helping any aspiring writer... These facts and thoughts are yours.
The facts presented are not mine. They were determined, to the best of their ability, by real-life astronomers and astrophysicists (and referenced by hyperlinks). The help is being offered to writers because, frankly, there is too much "bad astronomy" in movies and novels these days, too little hard research and sloppy cinematic thinking that could still remain marvelously cinematic while also being accurate. If I can help even a tiny bit to prevent another Armageddon or The Core or Knowing or Asteroid, then my humble work will not be for naught.

It also seems to me that it is helpful to create a more complete view of what all the combined realistic effects of a nearby supernova would be like, experienced as a whole event. Some effects combine with others to create a lethal synergy. Some dangerous effects appear to negate others (as in the section about a possible ice age as the result of a supernova). Scientists do spend time worrying about things like near-Earth supernovae. Shining Star is not out of line with that thinking.


If I were to write a work of fiction including such as this... I would research and write .. from my own minds eye... so to be my work...
It never hurts to have a little push in the right direction. And a little help finding the right resources.


Do you posses a morbid quest for catastrophic detail...
Uh, well, actually... yes. Yes, I do. :)


Write the book. Make the film.
I've kinda already done the first.

astromark
2010-Jul-03, 11:02 AM
I do not think that film makers are looking so hard for what is right... they are looking to make millions of $. They will I hope use this useful tool you have created for them but know that you and I will continue to be frustrated by the foolish and unreal... good effort tho, the information in shinning star was interesting. Now the tumblers have fallen into place I will not make any glib remarks regarding fiction writers... :eh:Mark.

astromark
2010-Jul-04, 02:44 AM
" What would a near-Earth supernova be like... ?"

Answers...;)...
Some what troublesome... annoying, not expected, Unexpected disruptions to all sorts of unrelated systems and catastrophic failures...
and last but not least, deadly.... thats the most annoying aspect of being dead I can think of...