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Doomed 'pinwheel' star system to explode in spectacular gamma-ray blast, study says


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By Doyle Rice, USA TODAY

Astronomers have found a unique "pinwheel" star system in our own galaxy, one that will eventually die in a massive explosion that's never been seen before here in the Milky Way, a new study reports. 
Scientists believe one of the stars – about 8,000 light years from Earth – is the first known candidate in the Milky Way that could produce a dangerous gamma-ray burst, among the most energetic events in the universe, when it explodes and dies.

“This is the first such system to be discovered in our own galaxy,” said study co-author Joseph Callingham, an astronomer with the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy. “We never expected to find such a system in our own backyard,” he said in a statement.

The authors named the star system Apep after a serpent deity from ancient Egyptian mythology that's the mortal enemy of sun god Ra. Study co-author Peter Tuthill of the University of Sydney said "the name seemed fitting as the sinuous dust plume looks like a coiled serpent doing battle with a central star.”

Apep’s stellar winds have created the dust cloud surrounding the system, which consists of a binary star with a fainter companion.

The star is spinning so fast that it's close to ripping itself apart. Scientists aren't sure when the star system will finally explode as a supernova, possibly in many thousands of years, but when it does, it will be spectacular. 

Gamma-ray bursts are among the most powerful explosions in the universe. Lasting between a few thousandths of a second and a few hours, they can release as much energy as the sun will emit over its entire lifetime, according to the study.

Fortunately, the star does not appear to be aimed at Earth, because a strike by a gamma-ray burst so close by (in cosmic terms) could rip the ozone away from our atmosphere, drastically increasing our exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun.

Scientists believe a gamma-ray burst could have caused a huge extinction event on Earth about 450 million years ago, CBC news reported.


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Technology - U.S. Daily News: Doomed 'pinwheel' star system to explode in spectacular gamma-ray blast, study says
Doomed 'pinwheel' star system to explode in spectacular gamma-ray blast, study says
Technology - U.S. Daily News
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