A MONSTER supernova in our galaxy might explode in very strong gamma ray bursts – strong enough to tear ozone from Earth's atmosphere.
The ticking time bomb is located at the heart of the 8,000-year light star system at the Milky Way named Apep after the Egyptian god of chaos.
Researchers at the University of Sydney say that the giant star is in perfect condition to create gamma ray bursts – the most extreme events in the universe after the Big Bang.
A team of international astronomers who use giant telescopes see a unique star system under the tail of the Scorpio constellation.
Dr. Joe Callingham, who led the study, said: "We soon discovered we had found something very extraordinary: luminosity across the spectrum from radio to infrared was outside the charts.
"When we saw an amazing lump of dust wrapped around these incandescent stars, we decided to name it 'Apep' – a giant snake deity and the arch enemy of the Sun God Ra from Egyptian mythology."
Dr. Benjamin Pope, who co-authored the study of Apep, said: "What we found in the Apep system is a supernova precursor that seems to spin very fast, so fast it almost breaks.
"Normal supernovae have become extreme events but adding rotation to the mixture can actually throw gasoline into the fire."
Fortunately, Apep doesn't seem to be directed to Earth.
If that is the case, a strike from a gamma-ray burst from a nearby supernova can tear ozone from the Earth's atmosphere, drastically increasing the planet's exposure to harmful UV rays from the sun.
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Without ozone, UV radiation will quickly cause disasters by damaging the DNA of all animals and plants on Earth.
Scientists don't know for sure that Apep will produce a gamma ray explosion because its future remains uncertain, but it will be the first explosion on the Milky Way if that happens.
Professor Tuthill, who heads the research group at the University of Sydney, said: "Meanwhile, it gives the chair astronomer ringside into beautiful and dangerous physics that we have never seen before in our galaxy."
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