T Pyxidis

T Pyxidis is a binary star system just over 3,000 light years from us. The two stars in the system are a sun-like star and a white dwarf star. The strong gravity of the dwarf star draws material from it’s neighbor that periodically cause it to go “nova” or explode (at least partially). Historically, this dwarf star has shown explosions that create a 1,000-fold increase in brightness about every 19 years or so. It would seem the delicate balance required for a star to exist without falling into gravitational collapse (black hole) or exploding into a self-destructive full nova or supernova has been oscillating back and forth as the star builds up material then releases it periodically.

Recent discoveries show that the star is located at a distance closer to 3,000 light years from us than the previously believed 6,000 light years. It is also overdue for it’s normal release of pent up energy, having gone over 40 years since the last nova explosion. This suggests that it may have built up more material than normal and when it finally does release the extra energy, the result could be spectacular and/or catastrophic. The star may be completely destroyed by a massive explosion. Such an explosion usually releases a large burst of gamma radiation and the star may be close enough for that radiation to be damaging to the ozone layer of our atmosphere. While scientists don’t expect it to go supernova soon and doubt the results will be damaging to our environment, they are really only making best guesses in most cases. We simply don’t know what will happen or when.

“The universe of galaxies and atoms, of loves and hates and strifes, is not more than a melting snowflake which at any moment may be trampled into the slush by indifferent and brawling titans . . . Myriads upon myriads of these snowflakes, each one a great physical cosmos, faltered downwards and rested on the field of snow. The footmarks of the ‘titans’. . . were areas where thousands of these universes had been crushed together . . . At any moment our own many-galaxied cosmos might be reduced to chaos, so that in a flash all its frail intelligent worlds would vanish . . .”

“Darkness and the Light” 1942 – Olaf Stapledon

Explosive Nearby Star Could Threaten Earth – [space.com]

A massive, eruptive white dwarf star in the Milky Way — long overdue for its next periodic eruption — is closer to our solar system than previously thought and could threaten the Earth if it fully explodes millions of years from now.

Picture Album: Hubble’s View of Nova T Pyxidis – [hubblesite.org]

T Pyxidis Soon To Be A Type Ia Supernova – [spacedaily.com]

An interesting, if a bit scary, speculative sidelight is that if a Type Ia supernova explosion occurs within 1,000 parsecs (1 parsec = 3.26 light-years) of Earth, then the gamma radiation emitted by the supernova would fry the Earth, dumping as much gamma radiation (~100,000 ergs/square centimeter) into our planet, which is equivalent to the gamma ray input of 1,000 solar flares simultaneously.

The production of nitrous oxides in Earth’s atmosphere by the supernova’s gamma rays would completely destroy the ozone layer if the supernova went off within 1,000 parsecs.

Classical Novae – [physics.ship.edu]

Nova T Pyxidis has outbursts about every 20 years (which is uncommonly frequent for a classical nova). Each outburst produces several ejections of gas at progressively slower speeds — from about 6.7 million miles per hour for the first ejection to about 450,000 miles per hour for the last. The blobs in the above image are believed to be the result of fast-moving gas from an eruption in 1966 catching up with the slowly moving gas of an eruption in 1944. It is this collision of fast- and slow-moving gases from successive eruptions that breaks up the ejectae into blobs and makes them glow.

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