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Sea Life Wiped Out by Neutron Star Collision?

timothy posted more than 9 years ago | from the that's-just-like-your-opinion-man dept.

Space 726

Memorize writes "Scientists report in the Journal of Astrophysical Letters that a mass extinction of marine life 450 million years ago might have been caused by radiation from an exploding star, such as a collision between two neutron stars, or a neutron star collapsing into a black hole. Such an event would cause a ten-second burst of gamma radiation, and if it occurred within our galaxy, it could have wiped out many species on earth. At least if astronomers find out that an asteroid is heading our way, we can do something about it, but if there is a gamma burst, we get no warning. And if we did, would there be any way to protect the planet?"

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Armageddon (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12209104)

I wonder if Ben Affleck will be able to take car... Wait, is that an Armageddon link in the blurb? Man that totally takes the fun out of it.

Better stock up on SPF 3000 and make the best of it...

Scary Stuff (5, Insightful)

DarkHelmet (120004) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209105)

This is pretty scary...

I remember reading this a while back on the Wikipedia entry for the Permian Triassic Extinction Event (link [wikipedia.org] ), but the Wiki entry quotes specifically that an extinction like this would only happen if the star were 10 parsecs, or 30 light years away.

Dr Melott in the article claims that a star like this would have to be 6,000 light years away, or closer. (That's more than 200 times the distance previously claimed.

Keep in mind the volume of a sphere is 4/3 pi r^3, so the volume of space that this would take up is increased by a factor of 8,000,000. I'd say, that the chance of this happening to us, therefore is increased by a factor of 8 million.

As I said before, scary stuff.

Re:Scary Stuff (5, Insightful)

LewsTherinKinslayer (817418) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209171)

I've never understood the human reasoning of fear, especially as it applies to something like this. IANAAP (i am not an astro physicist,) but I bet there is a far better chance of being killed in a car or struck by lightning than being wiped out by a gamma radiation burst.

Granted, this could completely destroy the human race, but either way I'm dead, so my stake in it is over.

Re:Scary Stuff (2, Insightful)

DarkHelmet (120004) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209191)

Sure, but that's just you.

Something like this, you have absolutely no legacy whatsoever. No kids to carry things on, nobody left to remember you, none of your accomplishments mattering.

I, for one, don't want to see the human race become extinct, regardless of if it's in my lifetime or not.

Re:Scary Stuff (3, Funny)

LewsTherinKinslayer (817418) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209199)

I'm only kidding. I'm not in favor of any kind of world wide death of humanity either; I think the loss of any life is a tragedy, let alone EVERY life. But still, the odds of this occuring are probably astronomically small. (pun not intended.)

Re:Scary Stuff (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12209330)

Considering that humanity has existed less than one million years, I would say that the fear is completely unjustified. I don't think its unreasonable to believe that humanity will be able to survive such an event in the next 1000 years (by living in space, having radiation shielding, and not having to rely on our biosphere). 1000 years is just a drop in the ocean compared to the time period that we'd have to worry about.

Remember, fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate ... leads to suffering.

Re:Scary Stuff (5, Informative)

Astro Dr Dave (787433) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209321)

Gamma ray bursts are an area of active research; we now believe that they emit radiation along some polar axis, rather than isotropically in every direction. That probably accounts for the difference in distances you've seen quoted; for some fixed power level, an anisotropic GRB is dangerous from a greater distance if you happen to lie in the beam.

Where's the science? (5, Interesting)

suso (153703) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209110)

From reading the article, it didn't seem like there was any evidence of this other than speculation. They talk about using computer models to show how it would have wiped life out, but what about the evidence that brought them to this model to begin with? They could at least start with evidence in rocks or something. I wish that every time I speculated on something, that they would 200 million dollar probe. I speculate that this comment will be modded up to +5 interesting, we should launch a probe to see if this is indeed the case.

Re:Where's the science? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12209131)

I think I speak for everyone when I say: huh wuhhh?? :-p

As per your instructions... (5, Funny)

Ieshan (409693) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209256)

As per your instructions, we've launched the probe.

Good luck sir, and Godspeed!

they know the gamma rays hit... (1)

DarkTempes (822722) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209284)

Dr. Adrivan Melott said, "A gamma ray burst originating within 6,000 light years from Earth would have a devastating effect on life. We don't know exactly when one came, but we're rather sure it did come - and left its mark."

now yes they are just 'speculating' WHEN it hit, but the effects using computer models are probably decently accurate

and since the models show that it could have helped cause such problems to ocean life (both in killing off large amounts of the ozone layer and the upper levels of ocean life) it would make sense it put it around a time that such an event DID happen.

Re:Where's the science? (1)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209329)

The article is extremely misleading. The swift probe mentioned in the article has nothing to do with protecting anyone, and is unrelated (except tangentially) with this extinction theory. The probes purpose is all about astronomy and being able to understand these gamma ray bursts better by detecting them faster and more often (and thus getting more data on them). That leads to better understanding of stellar physics, and the universe at large.

You're correct that the extinction theory is just pure speculation though. The article is essentially saying "the laws of physics and our understanding of the frequency of these events say it could have happened sometime in the past"

we r teh fuxored (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12209114)

belch

Yet another reason (2, Insightful)

Janitha (817744) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209116)

Yet another reason why the space program(s) in the whole world shout be given a high priority. Not just for technology, but ultimately for human survival in such occasion.

Re:Yet another reason (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12209126)

Um, I don't think being in space will help you not get flash fried.

Re:Yet another reason (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12209138)

Yup. All the more reason to colonize Mars.

Re:Yet another reason (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12209148)

Well, survival of the fittest. On an intergalactical scale...

Re:Yet another reason (2, Insightful)

Dr. Spork (142693) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209160)

Sorry to break it to you, but the radius of the harmful effect is supposed to be 6000 light years. I doubt we can disperse the population that much before we see this happen again.

Besides, all this does is strip off the ozone layer, which would mess with the marine food chain for a few years. It's not like it would bake people or anything. I'm sure we'll collectively do more damage to the sea than this sort of thing ever could. How fast will we destroy 60% of the ocean's species? I'm guessing something on the order of decades. If this is something we care about, we should be worrying about ourselves and not about imploding neutron stars.

Re:Yet another reason (2, Interesting)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209335)

Flip side of that is that if we develop sufficient technology to terraform Mars or some other planet (ideally some planet a little closer to Earth gravity), we should have no trouble fixing something as simple as the ozone layer on our own....

Normally, I'd say travel to other worlds is largely useful to protect against man-made disasters, but some of the technology needed to make other worlds livable without special habitats could actually help in this case.

Wait... did I just say that our President isn't entirely full of it? Well, maybe just this once....

Re:Yet another reason (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12209259)

Yet another reason why the space program(s) in the whole world shout be given a high priority.

Genius. I know that you were pretending to have made a typo of 'should'. People who read above will subconsiously feel that the statement is very strong and agree towards your opinion because it feels like you are 'shouting', yet you are doing it without really actually shouting...

Re:Yet another reason (1)

trendescape (801324) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209302)

I would rather see humanity wiped out.

No. (4, Funny)

DreamerFi (78710) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209127)

And if we did, would there be any way to protect the planet?"

No.

Gee, I wish all "Ask Slashdot" postings were this easy..

Re:No. (1)

Cougar_ (92354) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209165)

If it did happen, would it matter? The earth is going to die someday, why is everyone so uptight about keeping it alive?

Re:No. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12209223)

The earth is going to die someday, why is everyone so uptight about keeping it alive?
My wife says the same thing about my old Mustang.

Oh come on! (4, Funny)

Chuck Chunder (21021) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209174)

A giant tinfoil hat is what's called for.

Re:No. (1)

DarkHelmet (120004) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209179)

Geez.

You're counting things out waaay too easily. I mean, NOW is the time to construct your house out of tin-foil.

All you have to figure out now is how to get 20 of the world's prettiest supermodels at your house, and some animal specimens, during the time of this burst, so you could repopulate the earth later.

It'd be just like Noah's Ark, only... well... not...

Re:No. (4, Funny)

Grey Ninja (739021) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209231)

All you have to figure out now is how to get 20 of the world's prettiest supermodels at your house, and some animal specimens, during the time of this burst, so you could repopulate the earth later.

Well, you could probably save on space a little by just simply keeping about 5 sheep in the house.

Re:No. (2, Interesting)

voisine (153062) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209197)

From the wikipedia entry on gamma rays, it would appear that your garden variety fallout shelter would do the trick:

Shielding for ? rays requires large amounts of mass. The material used for shielding takes into account that gamma rays are better absorbed by materials with high atomic number and high density. Also, the higher the energy of the gamma rays, the thicker the shielding required. Materials for shielding gamma rays are typically illustrated by the thickness required to reduce the intensity of the gamma rays by one half (the half value layer or HVL). For example, gamma rays that require 1 cm (0.4 inches) of lead to reduced their intensity by 50% will also have their intensity reduced in half by 6cm (2.4inches) of concrete or 9cm (3.6inches) of packed dirt.

Re:No. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12209247)

I don't know about you, but I don't want to spend a couple of years in a fallout shelter...
Such a burst would strip the Earth of its protective ozone layer, allowing deadly ultraviolet radiation to pour down from the sun.

Computer models showed that up to half the ozone layer could be destroyed within weeks. Five years later, at least 10% would still be missing.

Re:No. (3, Interesting)

eadz (412417) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209198)

If it only lasts 10 seconds, then just hope you are on the other side of earth.

Re:No. (4, Funny)

constantnormal (512494) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209236)

And if we did, would there be any way to protect the planet?"

Consults Homeland Defense Handbook ...
... it says here to "Duck and Cover".

I guess all that duct tape and plastic wrap will not be useful.

Re:No. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12209273)

President Muffley (Peter Sellers also): You mean, people could actually stay down there for a hundred years?
Dr.Strangelove: It would not be difficult mein Fuhrer! Nuclear reactors could, heh... I'm sorry. Mr. President. Nuclear reactors could provide power almost indefinitely. Greenhouses could maintain plantlife. Animals could be bred and slaughtered. A quick survey would have to be made of all the available mine sites in the country. But I would guess... that ah, dwelling space for several hundred thousands of our people could easily be provided.
Muffley: Well I... I would hate to have to decide.. who stays up and.. who goes down.
Dr.Strangelove: Well, that would not be necessary Mr. President. It could easily be accomplished with a computer. And a computer could be set and programmed to accept factors from youth, health, sexual fertility, intelligence, and a cross section of necessary skills. Of course it would be absolutely vital that our top government and military men be included to foster and impart the required principles of leadership and tradition.
His left hand slams down, and right arm rises in Nazi salute
Dr.Strangelove: Arghh! [Attempts to restrain arm] Naturally, they would breed prodigiously, eh? There would be much time, and little to do. But ah with the proper breeding techniques and a ratio of say, ten females to each male, I would guess that they could then work their way back to the present gross national product within say, twenty years. Muffley: But look here doctor, wouldn't this nucleus of survivors be so grief stricken and anguished that they'd, well, envy the dead and not want to go on living?
Strangelove: No sir... [right arm rolls his wheelchair backwards.] Excuse me. [struggles with wayward right arm, ultimately subduing it with a beating from his left.] Also when... when they go down into the mine everyone would still be alive. There would be no shocking memories, and the prevailing emotion will be ne of nostalgia for those left behind, combined with a spirit of bold curiosity for the adventure ahead! Ahhhh! [Right hand reflexes into Nazi salute. He pulls it back into his lap and beats it again. Gloved hand attempts to strangle him.]
Turgidson (George C. Scott): Doctor, you mentioned the ration of ten women to each man. Now, wouldn't that necessitate the abandonment of the so called monogamous sexual relationship, I mean, as far as men were concerned?
Strangelove: Regrettably, yes. But it is, you know, a sacrifice required for the future of the human race. I hasten to add that since each man will be required to do prodigious... service along these lines, the women will have to be selected for their sexual characteristics which will have to be of a highly stimulating nature.
DeSadeski: I must confess, you have an astonishingly good idea there, Doctor.
Strangelove: Thank you, sir.

Anyone else reminded of when Crocadile Dundee... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12209132)

was catching fish by killing them with dynamite?

Well, it's not all bad (5, Funny)

dirtsurfer (595452) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209133)

On the bright side, gamma ray exposure is what brought us the Hulk, and his hot cousin She-Hulk. So hey, what's few million flavors of fish, give or take?

Re:Well, it's not all bad (1)

glowimperial (705397) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209281)

Well, if we might get some She-Hulks out of this kind of disaster, I say bring on the rays!

Tried and True (5, Funny)

Grayden (137336) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209134)

Tinfoil hats for everyone!

Re:Tried and True (1)

the_leander (759904) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209162)

But is your tinfoil hat specifically approved for gamma radiation deflection?

Seriously though, is there any real information beyond idle speculation about how close such a collision would have to be in order to have an effect on life here? Also, would there not have to be a direct line of site for such radiation to effect us?

Re:Tried and True (1)

killawatt5k (846409) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209190)

But is your tinfoil hat specifically approved for gamma radiation deflection?

No, you would need lead hats. 6'feet of lead

Re:Tried and True (1)

NanoGator (522640) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209307)

Pff, screw that! I'm gonna get bitten by a spider!!

(Yeah yeah, I know it's not very funny. I just wish my secretions were a little more useful.)

Independant confirmation (5, Funny)

Chairboy (88841) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209135)

I can confirm the veracity of the theory, I've actually reproduce it through experimentation. My partner and I set up a live and a control group and did a sequenced build up until... well...

So anyways, we put Sea Monkeys in a microwave oven.

Re:Independant confirmation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12209167)

Watch out for PETA. You might have been better off putting your partner in the microwave oven.

Re:Independant confirmation (1)

WankersRevenge (452399) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209315)

Looks like these boys [mozilla.org] beat you to it ;)

Re:Independant confirmation (1)

blackomegax (807080) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209336)

but a microwave oven wouldnt work...you gotta make a couple of neutron stars in your basement...you know..next to all the star wars action figures and mock stargate.

Excuse me, Mr. Pharmacist...? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12209136)

Can you recommend a good sunscreen that will protect me from a ten second gamma ray burst?

Re:Excuse me, Mr. Pharmacist...? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12209310)

Can you recommend a good sunscreen that will protect me from a ten second gamma ray burst?

I could, but I will refuse to sell you one. It could mean depriving a tumor of life which would run counter to my morals as a pharmacist.

Black Holes Ain't (1, Insightful)

amigoro (761348) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209144)

From TFA: caused by neutrons colliding with blackholes

Didn't slashdot report that Black Holes don't exists [nature.com]

Whom am I to believe?

Obligatory joke (1)

BetaCarroty (873151) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209250)

Whom am I to believe?

Nobody. Black holes suck.

There is a solution (1, Insightful)

fgl (792403) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209150)

Dont just live on one planet. Seriously, if we had the technology to spread the species beyond our solar system, we wouldnt be taken out in one cosmic hit. Admittedly a gamma burst from coliding neutron stars would still take out a large portion of a galaxy. I seem to recall a sci fi novella about something like this. I must go look it up

Re:There is a solution (1)

Dr. Spork (142693) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209186)

The radius of damage from this explosion is 6000 light years. Moving to a nearby solar system won't help.

Re:There is a solution (1)

fm6 (162816) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209229)

All we need is 500-cochrane engine capable of going Warp 6....

Sigh. I've come to believe that Science Fiction is the worst enemy of space exploration.

Re:There is a solution (3, Interesting)

Tsiangkun (746511) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209261)

Would we gain more protection from moving 50 ft underground or living on the surface in another solar system ? We pretty much need to leave the galaxy to escape this type of event. Wouldn't we have to travel about 10000 years to escape this type of event only to get to another location where the same event could happen ? I guess the species is preserved, but since we wouldn't have any quick way of knowing, and no effective interaction, does it really matter any more than other life forms in the universe. I can see leaving the earth, and appreciate to continuation of knowledge via keeping the species alive, but it seem this isn't the type of thing we have the technology to escape by moving far enough away. Maybe an glbal warning system, so if it happens again hits, the other half of the planet can go way underground ?

lenny bruce is not afraid (5, Insightful)

Leontes (653331) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209161)

I've been fascinated by these kinds of events for a while. We live in a huge cosmos, full of billions and billions of stars, the fact is that we really could at any point be wiped out by thousands of chance events at any moment, that we wouldn't even see coming, that we right now know nothing about. If our reality as we know it suddenly got deleted for whatever reason, and we had no idea that it was coming, there would be no hindsight to be twenty-twenty about. Just another reason to live life well, while we still have the chance to. Now I feel like eating ice-cream.

Greg Egan's Diaspora (4, Interesting)

Nova Express (100383) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209163)

Ganna Ray bursters play an important role in Greg Egan's far-future SF novel Diaspora. Unfortunately for us, we don't have the option available to the novel's post-human conscious software characters of escaping an impending gamma-ray burster by migrating to a higher spacetime geometry...

No - we're doomed. (4, Interesting)

sbaker (47485) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209169)

Since gamma rays are travelling at the speed of light - we can't possibly get any warning of them without figuring out some kind of faster-than-light transportation or message transmission.

I suppose we could make a REALLY good predictive model of when astronomical objects are likely to do this - and predict the arrival of a gamma ray burst in time to do something about it. But what could we possibly do?

It takes a good few inches of lead (or a good few feet of concrete, dirt, whatever) to significantly attenuate gamma rays - and if the ones were are talking about were powerful enough to get through the full depth of the earth's oceans and still kill things when they got there - then you'd need to wrap the earth in a few feet of lead - or hide down some amazingly deep mine-shafts.

Since gamma rays are electrically neutral, you can't deflect them away with magnets or anything like that.

We'd have to get out of the way - but this radiation will be expanding out equally in all directions from the source. Unless we had thousands of years of warning, we'd have to high-tail it outta here at close to the speed of light in order to get far enough away for the inverse-square law to have an effect. If we're 100 light years from the source (say) and a mile of salt water doesn't attenuate the energy enough - then we'd need to be *way* more than 200 light years away if we could carry a quarter of a mile of water as a shield, 400 light years away if we had a sixteenth of a mile of water....for any reasonable amount of shielding, we need thousands of years notice of the problem happening.

In all likelyhood, we'd just sit back and let our great, great, great grandchildren deal with the problem.

We're basically doomed unless we have some kind of science-fiction technology.

Re:No - we're doomed. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12209241)

Then it's a good thing we don't all live on the same side of the planet. :)

The gamma ray burst only lasts for 10 seconds, if I'm not mistaken, so it would only affect the side of Earth facing in its direction. It would be the biggest disaster in history, but it wouldn't mean the human species is "doomed."

Re:No - we're doomed. (1)

sponge_absorbent (588860) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209264)

"Such a burst would strip the Earth of its protective ozone layer, allowing deadly ultraviolet radiation to pour down from the sun."

According to the article ultraviolet radiation is the main problem.

Regardless, i would rather be shielded on the other side of the planet if had a choice.

Re:No - we're doomed. (1)

sbaker (47485) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209308)

But ozone (which is only a high energy oxygen molecule) is continually replenished from regular oxygen - the only reason that we have ozone destruction problems is because we have stuff like CFC's up there that continually destroy ozone faster than it is being re-formed.

A sudden destruction of about half of the ozone wouldn't be immediately fatal to creatures on the other hemisphere. It would basically be a race between the ozone on the protected side of the planet gradually dispersing to the zapped hemisphere - and thereby halving the density over the remaining population - versus the formation of fresh ozone.

Dunno how you'd go about figuring out the consequences and time-span of that process - but people manage to live in polar regions where there are gigantic ozone holes. They don't all drop dead overnight.

Re:No - we're doomed. (1)

John Seminal (698722) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209324)

I suppose we could make a REALLY good predictive model of when astronomical objects are likely to do this - and predict the arrival of a gamma ray burst in time to do something about it. But what could we possibly do?

It takes a good few inches of lead (or a good few feet of concrete, dirt, whatever) to significantly attenuate gamma rays - and if the ones were are talking about were powerful enough to get through the full depth of the earth's oceans and still kill things when they got there - then you'd need to wrap the earth in a few feet of lead - or hide down some amazingly deep mine-shafts.

So, my ray-ban sunglasses won't help, I'll be SOL?

In all likelyhood, we'd just sit back and let our great, great, great grandchildren deal with the problem.

This is why we need more space exploration funding. We might learn of ways to deal with these problems. Who knows, maybe it'll be like star trek, and we'll have a huge space ship with a deflector dish. I know, that is science fiction, but people's thoughts are tied into their environment. Send someone to live on mars for a year, and they will come back filled with ideas based on the gravity, atmosphere, physics of that planet. They will have to find ways to deal with heat/cold, gasses, ect. Maybe from those exercizes we'll learn something we can't concieve of on earth.

I read a great book my Kaku called Hyperspace where he argues we don't live in 4 dimensions (x,y,z, and time) but in 10, and that our perception is faulty. Maybe the rays are acting in a dimension we don't know about. They say light is both a particle and a wave. They say you can't tell where an electron is and how fast it is going.

Ahh... I need to take a break. I am getting too worked up.

Re:No - we're doomed. (5, Insightful)

a1ok (250188) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209332)

Any gamma burst from a single point will only fall on half the Earth's surface directly. What stops us from just hopping across to the other half, instead of needing scifi tech to survive?

For that matter, even without warning around half the world population would automatically be shielded - well if China and India were on the exposed side that might be much less than half though ;)

So what you're saying is... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12209337)

then you'd need to wrap the earth in a few feet of lead ... the earth needs a tin-foil hat?

not everybody will die (1)

AndreyFilippov (550131) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209170)

If it is that short - half of the Earth (population) will still survive.

Read the goddamn article (1)

InfiniteWisdom (530090) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209320)

The problem is that it dramatically depletes the ozone layer, increasing the UV exposure, not that the radiation kills everyone. Why do Slashdotters think they're smarter than everyone and that they can read a 1 paragraph summary and critique the research someone has spent years working on?

only half? (1)

jonpublic (676412) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209172)

wouldnt the burst only hit half the planet? the other half being shielded by earth's mass?

just a thought.

Re:only half? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12209233)

The whole point of the article is that the gamma rays would instantly destroy the ozone layer, after which the UV radiation (from the sun) kills the little critters on the surface of the ocean over a longer period of time. Then the fish that used to feed on said critters will starve to death, and so on. It doesn't matter which side of the planet you're on...

Actually, it's not quite as dangerous as it sounds (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12209173)

I posted the original story, and found this link after I posted it: Earthtimes story [earthtimes.org] . The 10-second pulse knocked out all the ozone, which allowed gamma radiation to bathe the earth for a few years afterwards, and that's what caused the extinction. If our lives depended on saving the ozone in a hurry, I'm sure it could be done. We would need to build an enormous number of huge nuclear reactors to work as ozone generators, but it could be done. I'm sure some enterprising Slashdotter could calculate how many it would take and how long to get them operational.

Reminds Me Of Diaspora (1)

aingleby (606690) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209175)

Greg Egan wrote a great book [netspace.net.au] on this very subjuect.. Highly recommended reading... In fact most [netspace.net.au] Greg Egan books should interest the Slashdot types. Alan

Stephen Baxter wrote about this (1)

Frodo Crockett (861942) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209177)

In his novel Manifold Space [amazon.com] , Baxter describes a similar destructive event. I highly recommend it, along with its alternate-universe siblings, Manifold Time [amazon.com] and Manifold Origin. [amazon.com]

Here's the description from the back cover:

"The year is 2020. Fueled by an insatiable curiosity, Reid Malenfant ventures to the far edge of the solar system, where he discovers a strange artifact left behind by an alien civilization: A gateway that functions as a kind of quantum transporter, allowing virtually instantaneous travel over the vast distances of interstellar space. What lies on the other side of the gateway? Malenfant decides to find out. Yet he will soon be faced with an impossible choice that will push him beyond terror, beyond sanity, beyond humanity itself. Meanwhile on Earth the Japanese scientist Nemoto fears her worst nightmares are coming true. Startling discoveries reveal that the Moon, Venus, even Mars once thrived with life?life that was snuffed out not just once but many times, in cycles of birth and destruction. And the next chilling cycle is set to begin again . . ."

Couldn't have wiped out all of it in 10 seconds (1, Redundant)

SimonInOz (579741) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209180)

A 10 second burst of radiation would irradiate half the earth. The other half would be unaffected, surely? If it can penetrate the earth (like neutrinos do all the time), then it'll go straight though any organisms too.

Things We Can Do (5, Funny)

the pickle (261584) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209184)

1) Send Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck to break the gamma ray in half...wait...

2) Make a gigantic lead planetary Dyson sphere [wikipedia.org]

3) In the immortal words of David Levinson [imdb.com] , "Uh, hide."

4) PANIC!!!

5) Seven words: Journey to the Center of the Earth [imdb.com] .

6) Profit!!!

7) Seriously, did you just ask what we could do? Of course there's nothing we can do, you rhetorical-question-asking moron. We hope to Darwin that we can evolve.

8) Natalie Portman naked in hot grits. (If the world was about to end in a giant gamma ray bath, that is.)

p

Re:Things We Can Do (1)

Androk (873765) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209260)

Since TFA says the las tone ripped away 90% of the ozone layer between 5 and 6 you should have "invest in sunscreen manufacturer" Androk

There would be some time before death... (0)

dtjohnson (102237) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209193)

After the gamma ray burst, most of us might have received a fatal dose but we would probably still have a few hours or days before our organs shut down and we kicked the bucket. That would give us time to get those last things finished up and say goodbye to each other. A handful of people would probably survive, though, such as, for example, miners working in tunnels 2000 feet below the surface. Also, people on the far side of the Earth from the gamma ray burst might survive if the Earth shielded them, assuming, of course, that the 'far side' from the burst was land rather than water.

Re:There would be some time before death... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12209242)

so, those of you living on your parents basement should be ok...

At least (1)

NoGuffCheck (746638) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209196)

At least if astronomers find out that an asteroid is heading our way, we can do something about it

even if an astronomer did find out Armagedon was coming I dont still think Liv Tyler would let you do what your thinking... or at least what im thinking.. damn!

Must not be a good correspondant (2, Informative)

Crazieeman (610662) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209201)

Alok Jha, science correspondent
Monday April 11, 2005

Next month, Nasa will launch the £138m Swift probe, which will sweep up to one sixth of the sky at a time, looking for sudden bursts. If all goes well, the probe could catch two three explosions a week.

Swift was launched almost 6 months ago.

Slashdot Link [slashdot.org]

Re:Must not be a good correspondant (1)

astromog (866411) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209323)

Oh good. I'm not travelling back in time uncontrollably.

RE Sea Life Wiped Out by Neutron Star Collision? (3, Funny)

soulrider2k (678396) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209204)

And if we did, would there be any way to protect the planet?

I dunno, a massive pair of Blue Blockers?

Aftermath (1)

FuturePastNow (836765) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209207)

The novel Aftermath by Charles Sheffield is about a supernova explosion of Alpha Centauri, and possible ways to protect the Earth. It's been a long time since I read it, but I think the solution they came up with was to build a shield between Earth and the nova- a giant metal mesh in space. Basically a one-sided Faraday cage.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0553577387/ qid=1113283784/sr=2-3/ref=pd_bbs_b_2_3/104-8393393 -6164737 [amazon.com]

Asteroids and Neutrons (1)

fm6 (162816) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209210)

Blowing up an asteroid with an a-bomb may make sense in Hollywood, but doesn't work in real life [washingtonpost.com] . The B612 Foundation [b612foundation.org] has a more practical solution -- but not sexy enough to attract funding.

Greg Egan [netspace.net.au] has a simple solution to the neutron bombardment problem -- convert everybody into software [sfreviews.com] . I think he underestimates the technical issues...

Re:Asteroids and Neutrons (1)

John Seminal (698722) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209282)

Blowing up an asteroid with an a-bomb may make sense in Hollywood, but doesn't work in real life. The B612 Foundation has a more practical solution -- but not sexy enough to attract funding.

Greg Egan has a simple solution to the neutron bombardment problem -- convert everybody into software. I think he underestimates the technical issues...

I have an idea too, but I doubt it will happen in my lifetime. I would like to see small space stations on different plantes in our solar system. Maybe start with the moon, it is close enough. Make a small, intact, self-supporting ecosystem in an enclosed area, maybe under the surface to control temprature and the dust. Develop cheaper methods of getting from the earth to the base on the moon. Then slowly start working to the next closest planet. Build a research center there, taking what we have learned from the moon and applying it to the new base. Start regular space flights from the earth to this plantiary base. Maybe build a second base on the same planet. Learn from it. Move on to a farther away planet. If a base on the planet can't be consturcted, maybe build a space station that orbits that planet. Soon, we will have research stations on all the planets.

I know I am getting away from the science, but I can imagine the adventure. And having space stations orbiting other planets, as well as research stations on planets will accelerate space travel, we will have monthly or weekly departures and returns. And communications will improve. The reports from Pluto will make it back beacuse we will have space stations on other planets to "bounce" the message back home.

They say in physics that everything is relative. Perhaps having "eyes" on different planets will provide a different perspective for viewing the universe. And we will learn about physics in different environments. Maybe we'll even learn how gravity works or have different ideas pop up just because of the change of scenery. The popular story is Newton was sitting under an apple tree when the apple fell, hitting him on his head, and he discovered gravity. Maybe that would not have happened on a planet with lower gravity, maybe it would have been a different revelation.

I hope we speed up research and exploration. I have so many questions I would like anwsered in my lifetime.

It's The Gamma Radiation, Stupid (1)

creimer (824291) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209211)

Whenever something goes wrong with the computer or something (but usually a someone) really screws up at work, we would say that the cause was gamma radiation. It came, it went, and we have no idea where it gone. Now we have proof... Go figure.

Science.... fiction (2, Informative)

John Seminal (698722) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209212)

I am not buying any of it.

From the article:

Gamma ray bursts are thought to be caused either when two neutron stars collide or when giant stars collapse into black holes at the end of their lives.

Then you get this:

Black holes do not exist

http://www.deccanherald.com/deccanherald/apr112005 /snt108532005410.asp [deccanherald.com]

So which one is it? Do black holes exist, or do they not?

Umm, I might be missing something, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12209215)

I didn't bother reading the article, but even if this happens, so what? At most half of the planet's biomass (the half facing the exploding star) is wiped out and the other half re-populates the planet...

Yawn...

We wouldnt need any protection.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12209217)

...no protection needed until everyone got angry. You wouldn't like earth when its angry! =D

Re:We wouldnt need any protection.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12209269)

Can I still post on slashdot if there is a gamma burst? :rolleyes:

I wonder... (2, Interesting)

MagicDude (727944) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209219)

Would radiation blanket the entire planet? The neutron stars colide at point A and send off radiation in all directions. Some of that radiation travels in a straight line towards earth and irradiates the half of the planet currently facing the collision site. However, would the other half of the planet be spared from massive irradiation? Just like the half of the planet not currently facing the sun receives little of the radiation from it at night, could the same principle apply here? Would the critters on the "day" side of the earth relative to the collisioni be the hardest hit and instantly wiped out, and the "night" side critters spared, or does gamma radiation wrap around the planet and consume everything?

Just a 10 second burst? (1, Redundant)

sbaker (47485) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209230)

So if it's just 10 seconds, surely it could only cook the side of the planet facing the event? Surely we aren't talking about an event so energetic that the radiation would pass all the way through the earth's core in enough strength to screw up both hemispheres at once?

We must be talking something that trashes the ozone layer - or the environment in some other way. It's not enough for the energy to simply kill all the critters on one half of the planet...that's a recoverable event in itself.

It must be that it depletes something important and CONSEQUENTLY all the fish die.

everything will be famous for ten seconds (1)

grikdog (697841) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209245)

Isn't half the earth in a gamma ray shadow? These aren't neutrinos. So, granting that all life was in the oceans 450 million years ago (or is that just all life we know about?), didn't half of it survive if gamma rays were the agency of destruction? Gamma rays seem an unlikely source. What about dark energy, instead?

Are we really this blind? (5, Insightful)

Aximxp (857275) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209251)

I think it's great how preoccupied so many people are about these completely obscure hypothetical apocalypse events. If life has been ticking for hundreds of millions of years without a hitch you can be damn sure that the least of our worries are going to be random gamma radiation. How about the fact that we've lost almost 50% of all types of tropical, mediterranean and temperate forests as well as 30% of deserts over the past 100 years. Stop staring at the sky waiting for asteroids and mythical dragons to swoop down and annihilate the human race, the SUV in your driveway is a much more likely candidate people...

Three Simple Words (1)

serutan (259622) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209252)

Hat
Reynolds
Wrap

Easy answer (5, Interesting)

rainwalker (174354) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209253)

"And if we did, would there be any way to protect the planet?"

Uh, no? First, how would you propose we detect a gamma ray burst, which travels at the speed of light (of course), before it gets here? Second, you're talking about a pulse of energy strong enough to destroy life on a planetary scale from 6,000 light years away! How the hell are you going to protect against that?! Tin foil can't help you now!

On a side note, this was a plot device in a book by Stephen Baxter, although I can't remember the title. Every couple million years, two stars in the center part of the galaxy would collide, and knock all life in the galaxy back to single-stage or before; species would struggle back up the evolutionary ladder, and just as they achieved spaceflight, the next stars would collide. Great book-

Black holes do not exist (nature.com) (1)

ABeowulfCluster (854634) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209266)

Black holes do not exist, http://www.nature.com/news/2005/050328/full/050328 -8.html and the idea of two neutron stars running into each other is pretty silly too.

First, you'd need two neutron stars in the same neighbourhood, then you'd need to line them up precisely to actually hit each other. You have to realize that these things are actually pretty small because they're dense. So the odds of having two neutron stars hit each other by chance is really realy small.

Paint me skeptical. There's not much evidence of a single neutron star too close to us let alone evidence that two may have hit.

I guess I'm asking.. 'ok. where's the nearby black hole then?"

Extinction caused by excessive flatulence? (1)

mveloso (325617) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209267)

Maybe the pre-cambrian die-off was caused by massive flatulence on the part of the multi-celled organisms at the time?

This is about as likely as any other theory, except for the question as to whether methane was a by-product of life at the time.

Of course, it's just as likely as "some neutron stars somewhere colliding."

Re:Extinction caused by excessive flatulence? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12209295)

That is exactly what i was thinking.

You read my mind.

Wrong! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12209290)

The earth is only 10,000 years old.

I'm prepared! (1, Funny)

Goalie_Ca (584234) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209294)

*puts on tin foil hat*

You should be VERY WORRIED (1)

Hao Wu (652581) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209296)

WHAT should be done about gamma-ray burst from exploding neutron stars?

Our leaders DO NOTHING to protect us...

Is a massive global suicide pact the only solution?

Not the burst (1)

debrain (29228) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209300)

The clever among us are wondering how a 10 second blast can kill so many things on the planet, when half the planet will be on the far side of the burst (a planet that would presumably absorb a great deal of the radiation). It turns out (From TFA) that the burst theoretically destroys the ozone layer, undermining our protective layer against solar radiation, until the ozone layer replenishes. The blurb is a touch misleading.

Incidentally, wasn't it just shown that black holes don't exist [slashdot.org] ?

Check out... (1)

Hits_B (711969) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209318)

Manifold Space by Steven Baxter. It covers the same concept as outlined in their theory on the cause of the Ordovician extinction

Do not panic. (1)

Maljin Jolt (746064) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209328)

but if there is a gamma burst, we get no warning.

A positive gamma burst forecast is the factual reason for all intelligent species are already evacuated from this galaxy.

And if we did, would there be any way to protect the planet?

Yes, it is. Store all life DNA encoding to gamma resistent hardware with nanotech capabilities. The day after, start assembling live organisms to re-create biosphere.

got mirror? (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 9 years ago | (#12209338)

seems a neutron star wiped out the server
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