Gamma rays produce flashes that are brighter than a billion suns yet last only a few milliseconds.
Gamma rays produce flashes that are brighter than a billion suns yet last only a few milliseconds. NASA

Star ready to explode and it's 'too close for comfort'

ASTRO Dave has been reading all the sensational headlines and while he doesn't want to alarm anybody he admits the dying star recently detected in our galaxy is a 'dangerous little object'.

"Other than a black hole this is arguably the most dangerous and powerful object in the universe and this one is too close for comfort,” Mid North Coast Astronomy's (Astro) Dave Reneke explained.

"They can't really tell when it will detonate - it's not really a ticking time bomb like some of the headlines are making out, but this is one dangerous little object.

Likened to a vast Catherine wheel in space the series of stars, named Apep in honour of the Egyptian serpent deity who battles sun god Ra, has a pair of enormous stars at its core.

One of the stars is at the end of its life, and will undoubtedly die in one of the most powerful explosions in the universe, known as a gamma-ray burst which is one the most extreme events in the Universe after the Big Bang itself.

Gamma ray bursts are short bursts of powerful energy. They can shine hundreds of times brighter than a typical supernova and about a million, trillion times as bright as the sun.

"The explosion would produce more light and more energy than the sun in its history - an amazingly powerful object, spreading gamma rays out in a line,” explained Dave.

Writing in the journal Nature Astronomy, study co-author Peter Tuthill of the University of Sydney says this is the first time they've seen all of the ingredients to create such an explosion "all wrapped up in one place”.

The orbiting binary stars create a spectacular curved tail.

"And indications from this light curve show that its power is increasing, and it is ramping up for detonation,” Dave explained.

But the good news is that Apep does not appear to be aimed at Earth, because a strike by a gamma-ray burst from this proximity could strip ozone from the atmosphere, drastically increasing our exposure to UV light from the Sun.

"We could be dodging a bullet on this one when it detonates,” Dave said.



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