Astronomers from the University of Illinois have reported a new cosmic threat to life on planets like Earth.
According to an article published in The Astrophysical Journal, supernovae can emit intense X-rays that can impact planets over 100 light-years away.
When a star explodes, a supernova is formed, which produces shock waves that collide with the dense gas around the star. Such a collision produces X-rays that can reach a habitable planet and affect it for extended periods of time, from months to decades. If there is a biosphere on the planet, then cosmic radiation can provoke a mass extinction.
The scientists studied 31 supernovas and their remnants by making observations with NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, the Swift and NuSTAR missions, and ESA’s XMM-Newton. It turned out that the planets can be exposed to potentially lethal doses of radiation, being at a distance of about 160 light years.
Before that, it was believed that there were only two phases that posed a threat to habitable planets: the intense radiation produced by a supernova in the first days and months after the explosion, as well as the flow of energy particles hundreds and thousands of years later.
As a result of such an impact, X-rays can seriously change the chemical composition of the atmosphere of a neighboring planet. In the event that the planet is similar to the Earth, this can destroy a significant part of the ozone layer, which protects life on the planet from dangerous ultraviolet radiation.
For those who are looking for life in space, this news may be disappointing. The possibility that intelligent life exists on other planets previously seemed more likely. However, the results of a study conducted by astronomers at the University of Illinois show that cosmic threats may be stronger than we thought.
Scientists estimate that planets around 160 light-years away could be exposed to lethal doses of radiation that could destroy life on them. It is also worth considering that these results are based only on observations of 31 supernovae and their remnants.
There is a possibility that this threat may extend to more planets than we thought.
Despite all this news, no one knows how many planets there may be in our galaxy that are in a safe zone where life could be found. There are billions of stars and planets, and we are just beginning to understand what cosmic threats could threaten them.
As one of the scientists working in the field of exoplanet research says, “life can be adapted to a wide variety of conditions, but threats exist everywhere.”
We cannot predict what obstacles we will encounter in our search for life in space, but this should not stop us in our scientific exploration and quest to understand our place in the universe.
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