Recent research conducted in the United States has shed light on the potential threat to Earth from a neutron star collision event known as kilonova, one of the most powerful and explosive phenomena in the known universe. Scientists have determined how close such an event would need to be to pose a danger to life on our planet.
Kilonova events are characterized by the release of lethal forms of radiation, including gamma rays, cosmic rays, and X-rays. Researchers have now concluded that if a neutron star merger, creating a kilonova, were to occur within approximately 36 light-years of Earth, it could result in an extinction-level event. This shocking revelation comes from a study led by Haille Perkins, a scientist at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
The ultra-dense neutron stars’ powerful collision generates a particle blast that could have catastrophic consequences for Earth. One of the primary concerns is the depletion of our planet’s ozone layer, which would render it vulnerable to ultraviolet radiation for the next 1,000 years.
Cosmic rays, among all the lethal particles examined, are considered the most significant threat. The collision in space would trigger the formation of an expanding cosmic ray bubble, enveloping everything in its path and releasing highly energetic, charged particles onto Earth.
Gamma rays are equally concerning. The collision of gamma rays with the surrounding stardust, known as the “interstellar medium,” could lead to the emission of X-rays, which possess a similar ionizing impact on Earth’s ozone layer. To experience these consequences, Earth would need to be within about 16 light-years of the event’s epicenter.
While the findings are alarming, there’s no immediate cause for panic. Kilonova events are considered rare, and other more common events, such as solar flares, asteroid impacts, and supernova explosions, are more likely to pose immediate threats.
Notably, the study’s team examined a neutron star merger that occurred in 2017, located approximately 130 million light-years away. This event resulted in a violent release of particles, with a combined mass roughly 1,300 times that of Earth. Researchers had originally hoped to gain insights into how certain heavy elements, including platinum, uranium, and gold, came into existence through kilonova events.
In conclusion, while kilonova events may be among the most powerful cosmic occurrences, they are considered rare and pose a substantial threat to Earth only if they occur within a certain proximity. Nonetheless, the study serves as a reminder of the potential dangers that lurk in our vast universe.