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HR8210; Exploding star that will destroy Earth.

Byline: STEPHEN WHITE

EARTH is on course to be wiped out by an exploding star named HR8210.

But don't panic - the end of the world is not due for hundreds of millions of years.

HR is a white dwarf, a dense compact star that has run out of fuel and is in the last stages of evolution.

US researcher Karen Sandstrom found it is only just short of the critical point at which a star has enough mass to explode.

Stars blow up when they run out of fuel to burn and collapse in under their own weight. As atoms are squashed together, they blast outwards in a supernova releasing enormous amounts of energy.

Such an explosion would strip the ozone layer protecting Earth from deadly ultraviolet radiation.

New Scientist magazine said: "If this star did let fly, the high-energy electromagnetic radiation and cosmic rays it released would destroy the ozone layer within minutes giving life little chance of survival."

Astronauts first logged HR in 1993. But scientists paid little attention to their discovery until Ms Sandstrom, of Harvard University, in Massachusetts, pointed out the dangers.

Although 1.15 times the mass of the sun, HR is thought to be too small to produce a supernova.

However it is near a larger companion star that appears to be coming to the end of its life.

As this companion begins to run out of fuel it will expand to form a red giant, a giant star emitting red light. Its outer layers could then be dumped on HR, triggering a supernova.

By the time of such a catastrophe scientists hope HR will have moved from its present position 150 light years away to a minimum safe distance of 160 to 200 light years.

But if the worst happens, cosmic history will only be repeating itself.

Last year scientists at the Space Telescope Science Institute, in Baltimore, found a supernova remnant in a group of stars.

The timing of the giant explosion corresponded to a mass marine extinction two million years ago.

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PERIL: How space blast would look
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 23, 2002
Words:348
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