Type 1a supernovas are infrequent. Astronomers often describe them as the ‘candles’ that allow them to measure intergalactic distance, but in truth, they are cosmic pyres of incredible ferocity.
They pierce time and space by being visible across millions of light years, beacons that blaze into view when the galaxies which hosted them may be too distant to leave much of a trace on the sensors of the most powerful telescopes on Earth or in space.
To have such a potential candle in the ‘hood is, to put it mildly, disconcerting.
This is how the mildly spoken Professor Sion, concluded his presentation, to a recent meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington DC.
So, how long do we have? Possibly 10 million years, maybe 10 minutes. The Villanova team chose to study T Pyxidis because it was known to be a recurrent nova, that is, a white dwarf that was observed to regularly blaze up as the matter that it swallowed up from its yellow companion was compressed to a degree that caused a thermonuclear explosion, a process by which such stars can shed mass and avoid type 1a annihilation.
Such flare ups were observed in 1890, 1902, 1920, 1944 and 1967. And then, they stopped. What had happened on this distant recurrent white dwarf nova in the constellation of Pyxis, they asked?
Well, they still don’t know, but whatever it is that is going on out there is happening much nearer to our fragile and lovely blue planet than anyone could have wished.
At a distance of 3260 light years, a rare type 1a supernova is expected to hit the Earth with a blast of radiation equivalent to 1,000 major solar flares.
Life on earth is very tenacious. Of course it would continue. But most likely without us.