What’s scarier than a star in our own Milky Way galaxy exploding? How about if that explosion is predicted to be one of the most energetic events in the universe? How about if that star happens to be named after Apep, the ancient Egyptian god of chaos and opponent of light? How about if that explosion is capable of blasting Earth with a massive dose of high energy gamma rays, the same type of radiation which turned Bruce Banner into the Incredible Hulk? That do it for ya?
Ok, so maybe the gamma ray blast isn’t probable – but it’s still possible. And actually a planet full of mutated Hulks running around smashing cars and leaving their footprints in rooftops sounds pretty awesome. Ultimately, it’s unknown exactly what the effects will be when Apep finally goes full on supernova and explodes and how Earth will be affected if at all. An international team of astronomers have published a study just this week which describes the discovery of a pair of extremely hot stars about 8,000 light-years away in the Milky Way. One of those, Apep, God of Chaos, teeters on the brink of supernova as you read this and has the potential to release an incredible long-duration gamma ray burst.
According to this new study, Apep is currently spinning so fast that it’s on the verge of ripping itself apart. “The rapid rotation puts Apep into a whole new class,” says study co-author Benjamin Pope of New York University. “Normal supernovae are already extreme events but adding rotation to the mix can really throw gasoline on the fire.” Of course, “on the verge” in astronomical terms means the supernova could occur any time in the next hundred thousand years or so.
Gamma ray bursts are the most powerful explosions in the universe and at their peaks can be brighter than the entire rest of the universe. If the Earth did happen to get blasted by a massive gamma ray burst, it could strip away our ozone layer, shower the planet in radiation, and trigger a mass extinction. Luckily, these bursts tend to send out two high-energy and focused jets of radiation and Apep does not appear to be aimed at Earth, so the odds of one of those jets lining up with Earth are pretty small at the moment. Pretty small is still greater than zero, though!
According to co-author Peter Tuthill, an astronomer at the University of Sydney in Australia, Apep’s fate remains unknown – as do any possible effects the explosion could have on Earth:
Ultimately, we can’t be certain what the future has in store for Apep. The system might slow down enough so it explodes as a normal supernova rather than a gamma-ray burst. However, in the meantime, it is providing astronomers a ringside seat into beautiful and dangerous physics that we have not seen before in our galaxy.
Invest in super-stretchy purple pants before Apep bombards us all with a Hulk-sized dose of gamma rays. Seriously, though: how do Bruce Banner’s pants manage to grow with him when he exponentially increases in size while transforming into the Hulk? In reality, Hulk would be perpetually naked, and the self-confidence of men everywhere would be perpetually damaged. Some things you just can’t unsee – like a gamma ray burst brighter than the rest of the Universe combined.
I say bring on the chaos. Do your thing, Apep.