RESEARCHERS have explored the dangers of powerful kilonovae in a new study.
Kilonovae are incredible space explosions that occur when two neutron stars collide.
These mergers are believed to produce x-rays, gamma-rays, and cosmic rays.
They were once thought to be relatively harmless to Earth, however, new research suggests this may not be the case.
Although extremely unlikely, if a kilonovae was close enough to Earth, the aforementioned rays could pose a danger to our planet.
The study, published in The Astrophysical Journal, used computer simulations to model the effects of kilonovae on Earth.
The researchers found that X-rays from a kilonova could only harm Earth if they occurred within 16 light-years of our planet.
Similarly, gamma rays could pose a danger from within 13 light-years of our planet.
However, cosmic rays, which are high-energy particles that can travel through space, could pose a threat up to 40 light-years away.
This threat is significant, with the potential to vaporize our atmosphere and destroy almost all life on Earth.
“We found that if a neutron star merger were to occur within around 36 light-years of Earth, the resulting radiation could cause an extinction-level event,” Haille Perkins, team leader and a scientist at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, told Space.com.
Thankfully for Earth, there is no kilonova even remotely nearby, so they don’t pose any dangers.
One kilonova that the researchers looked at for the study is known as GW170817.
It was detected by the LIGO and Virgo gravitational wave observatories in 2017.
The massive explosion, thousands of times more powerful than a nova, is about 130 million light-years away.
“Neutron star mergers are extremely rare but quite powerful, and this, combined with the relatively small range of lethality, means an extinction caused by a binary neutron star merger should not be a concern of the people on Earth,” Perkins explained.
“There are several other more common events like solar flares, asteroid impacts, and supernova explosions that have a better chance of being harmful,” she continued.
One example of a devastating asteroid impact is when Chicxulub struck Earth 66 million years ago and decimated around 75% of the planet’s plant and animal species, including the dinosaurs.