NASA's Chandra Telescope finds new THREAT to life! Is Earth in danger?

Chandra X-ray Observatory, NASA’s top X-Ray telescope, and others have discovered a new stellar threat to Earth-like planets.

| Updated on: Apr 21 2023, 22:46 IST
Top NASA Astronomy Pictures of the Week: Auroras, Dark Seahorse Nebula and more
1/5 Red ring of ELVES (April 17) - It is a snapshot of ELVES lighting up the sky over Italy, a distinct type of transient luminous event. ELVES refers to the Emission of Light and Very Low-Frequency perturbations due to Electromagnetic Pulse Sources. The red ELVES captured in the image had a radius of approximately 350 kilometers and occurred at an altitude of about 100 kilometers above the surface, according to NASA. (NASA/Valter Binotto)
2/5 Map of Total Solar Eclipse path (April 18) - It is the map of the total solar eclipse path which will take place on April 8 next year. Viewers in locations outside the paths will not experience a total solar eclipse or annular eclipse, but they may still see a partial eclipse. Lines running parallel to each path indicate how much of the Sun will become covered by the Moon during the partial eclipse. (NASA/SVS)
3/5 Auroras in Finland (April 19) - This captured image shows auroras lighting up the sky in Saariselka, in northern Finnish Lapland. It was a result of a powerful CME hitting Earth and the auroras could be seen not only in the North but as far as New Mexico, according to NASA. The bright auroras were seen in yellow, green, red and purple auroral colours, mesmerizing skywatchers and tourists. (NASA/Juan Carlos Casado (Starry Earth, TWAN))
4/5 Dark Seahorse Nebula (April 20) - Barnard 150, also known as the Dark Seahorse Nebula, is one of the most peculiarly shaped nebulae, located about 1200 light-years away towards the constellation of Cepheus. It is a dark molecular cloud and is so dense that the dust within blocks visible wavelengths of light. Telescopes that see visible light only detect ghostly dark patches in the sky, called Dark Nebulae. (NASA/Jeff Herman)
5/5 Hybrid Solar Eclipse (April 21) - It is a snapshot of the Hybrid Solar Eclipse which occurred yesterday, April 20. It crossed over remote parts of Australia, Indonesia and East Timor and was live-streamed by websites such as Perth Observatory, and the Gravity Discovery Centre and Observatory and more. According to NASA, this hybrid solar eclipse lasted just 62 seconds. (NASA/Gwenael Blanck)
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Know all about the new threat to life on planets such as Earth. (NASA)

NASA has confirmed a new danger for Earth! Astronomers have discovered this new danger from data collected from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes. The study, which reports this threat, reveals that during a specific phase, powerful X-rays from exploding stars can affect planets situated over 100 light-years away. The implications of this finding for the study of exoplanets and their habitability are significant.

The study is based on the X-ray observations of 31 supernovae and their aftermath, with data gathered mainly from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, Swift, and NuSTAR missions, as well as ESA's XMM-Newton. The research shows that planets located as far as about 160 light-years away can be exposed to lethal doses of radiation.

What has caused this threat? As shown in an artistic depiction by NASA, the source of this recently discovered threat is the collision between a supernova's shock wave and the dense gas that surrounds the exploded star. Due to this collision, a substantial amount of X-rays can be produced which can reach an Earth-like planet in a matter of months to years after the explosion. Worryingly, it can last for several decades! The level of exposure to such intense radiation could potentially result in an extinction event on the affected planet.

Effect of a large dose of X-rays on a nearby planet

As per NASA's latest blog post, if a surge of X-rays inundates a neighbouring planet, it could cause substantial changes in the planet's atmospheric structure. In the case of an Earth-like planet, this could result in the depletion of a significant amount of ozone, which is an important aspect of safeguarding life against harmful ultraviolet radiation from the Sun. Additionally, it could result at the end of a diverse array of organisms, especially marine species at the base of the food chain, ultimately resulting in the extinction of these organisms.

Is Earth in Danger?

Thankfully not! While the Earth and the Solar System are presently situated in a safe space with regard to the possibility of supernova explosions, numerous other planets within the Milky Way are not as lucky!

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First Published Date: 21 Apr, 22:46 IST