The universe is full of mysterious objects. We don’t know much about some of them. For example, neutron stars. The nearest one is so far away that it’s difficult to study it. But let’s say we were lucky. A neutron star moved and ended up next to our planet. Did I say lucky? It’s hard to call this lucky. Here’s why. In today’s article, I’m going to show you what a neutron star can do.
What happens if it gets close to Earth? And at the same time, you’ll learn a few more crazy scenarios for the end of the world. Crazy, but still feasible. Get ready. This is one of those articles that make you afraid of space. As usual, I’ll give you a little theory first to understand the danger of neutron stars. You need to get an idea of what they consist of and how they behave.
Well, what is a Neutron Star ??
A neutron star is a super dense star formed by a supernova explosion. It consists mainly of neutrons and is covered with a relatively thin shell on the outside. These are ordinary atomic nuclei and electrons, plus the atoms of iron and a very thin atmosphere. Neutron stars have a radius of about 10 kilometers or 6.2 miles and a mass of about one point four solar mass. In other words, they’re small, very dense and very heavy. Currently, there are about 2000 known neutron stars called pulsars in the Milky Way and Magellanic Clouds.
There should be about a billion neutron stars in total, but most of them are very old and cold. They have weak radiation, so they’re difficult to detect even with the Hubble Space Telescope. The nearest neutron star to Earth has the complex name, RX J1856.5-3754. It’s located at a distance of about 400 light-years away in the constellation of Corona Australis. To imagine how far away that is, imagine the distance from the Sun to Pluto.
On average, that’s five and a half light hours. But let’s imagine that a neutron star was approaching our planet. The probability of such an event is negligible. It’s quite difficult to make accurate calculations. So let’s use our imagination and some well-known scientific data. Neutron stars can pose a serious threat due to their impressive mass entering the solar system. Such a star could cause real chaos. All of the planets, including Earth, would fall out of their orbits.
The same fate would await asteroids and other objects of the solar system. All of them could be pushed off somewhere beyond it or collide with one another. After a change in orbit, the Earth could end up outside the circumstellar habitable zone. The temperature would drop and all water on the planet would freeze. This would lead to a new ice age. But this time the conditions would be much more severe. And then there’d be the extinction of many terrestrial organisms, including the human race.
But the Earth’s orbit could shift in the opposite direction. The neutron star could push the Earth closer to the sun. This would spell the end of the world. Global warming, which would eventually turn into an all-out drought, destroyed crops, fires, dead animals, all of the melted glaciers, along with the oceans, would gradually evaporate. The speed of the disaster would depend on our proximity to the sun. Perhaps several generations of people would struggle through the changes.
Or maybe it would happen so quickly that the sun would simply scorch the earth. Only the smallest dust and gases or a lifeless ball would remain. And don’t forget about the asteroids. As I said, their position would also change. This means that they could then be heading towards our planet. Which apocalypse scenario do you like best?? Ice, fire or one involving thousands of celestial bodies?? Imagine meteorites hitting the planet, destroying all life provoking volcanic eruptions and giant tsunamis. The dinosaurs got off easy in their day, but these aren’t all of the possibilities.
Neutron stars have some of the strongest gravitational fields in the universe. Their gravity is strong enough to flatten almost everything on their surfaces. Some scientists even believe that if there was life on them, it would be two dimensional. The magnetic field of a neutron star can be millions of times stronger than Earth’s. If you were only a thousand kilometers or 620 miles from such a star, your entire body would dissolve the magnetic field would change its sequence of atoms.
And if a neutron star came to close to our planet, it would cause spaghettification. This is what scientists call the strong vertical and horizontal stretching of objects.
In other words, the star would stretch the earth and the moon like spaghetti. It would then just swallow them up. This is usually what happens when an object comes in contact with a black hole. But a neutron star may well destroy planets in this way, too. It would simply be impossible to survive under the conditions of spaghettification. If the neutron star didn’t reach close enough, its gravity could still simply tear the earth apart. Or it could tear the atmosphere off our planet, causing all life to perish within minutes.
However, even this isn’t the main problem that could arise. Perhaps even more dangerous than its gravitational attraction would be the radiation of a neutron stars magnetic field. For example, a Magnetar. Its magnetic field is a thousand times stronger than that of normal pulsars. Sudden rearrangements of these fields can produce solar light flashes, but much more powerful. Magnetic fields are associated with the crust of a neutron star.
The crust is very hard and under tremendous gravitational pressure. If it cracks something like a starquake occurs. A powerful flash of radiation occurs.
Do you understand what this means?
Here’s a simple example. On December 27, 2004, scientists observed a giant gamma-ray flash from the SGR 1806- 20 Magneter. This neutron star is about 50000 light-years away from Earth in point two seconds. The Flash released as much energy as the sun produces in three hundred thousand years. In the gamma range, the explosion was brighter than a full moon. At night, ionization levels were equal to that of the day time.
This burst is considered the largest in the galaxy after the supernova SN 1604 explosion. If this neutron star was closer to the earth, for example, just 10 light years away, there would have been a catastrophe. Such a surge could completely destroy the ozone layer of our planet. It’s believed that it would be equal in power to a nuclear explosion of 12 kilotons. Now, imagine that something similar happened to a neutron star located within the solar system.
Earth’s Condition in that case…
Very close. The Earth would be finished and with it the rest of the planets. However, it’s unlikely that we would have a chance to even notice it. In fact, much depends on the mass of a particular neutron star. If it were relatively small, the solar system would get off easily. The more impressive the star, the more serious its impact is. For example, a really heavy neutron star could absorb not only the planets but also the sun.
But it could also do something else. There’s the possibility that the neutron star would merge with our sun. They would then form a binary star. This isn’t an equal union. The star would pull gas away from the sun. The sun would turn into a donor star. It’s difficult to say how this would threaten the Earth. We don’t know much about binary stars. Most likely, the sun and the neutron star together would make the climate hotter. Perhaps they would shine upon the Earth from both sides at the same time. So we wouldn’t have night.
Don’t forget about double doses of UV radiation and solar flares. It would be difficult to live in such conditions. The appearance of the sky would change. No more yellow ball of light overhead. But perhaps there would be dual sunsets.