Instant Suntan.
May 25, 2002 4:55 AM   Subscribe

Instant Suntan. A supernova in our galactic backyard may be on the verge of exploding. In the (unlikely) event that it happens tomorrow, how would you spend your last day on earth?
posted by Jubey (41 comments total)
Accumulated works of Stevie Wonder up to 1979 and several of my namesakes. Boring, but it works for me...
posted by bifter at 5:37 AM on May 25, 2002

Pipe smoking.
posted by alumshubby at 6:02 AM on May 25, 2002

Downloading the full version of Netscape 7 and the preview releases of Dreamweaver, Flash, and Fireworks MX. Oh, I almost forgot Mozilla 1.0 Candidate 3. You never know how a supernova will affect net connections...
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 6:04 AM on May 25, 2002

Posting to EVERY SINGLE THREAD on MeFi. And smoking three cartons of cigarettes.
posted by davidmsc at 6:22 AM on May 25, 2002

i would smoke pot, so i can feel relaxed…
taken out of context, i thought that the mx's were final versions already
posted by trismegisto at 6:35 AM on May 25, 2002

Seeing as how it's 150 light years away, if it blows tomorrow and I'm still alive when the wavefront washes over us, I'll consider myself pretty damn lucky to have lived almost 200 years.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:38 AM on May 25, 2002

But then again, Stavros, if it blew up on May 26, 1852, then tomorrow's gonna be an interesting day.

(Yes, yes, assuming it's exactly 150 light years).

I don't know - this is one of those things that I can't bring myself to worry about. If it happens, it happens - but I prefer to expend energy on things I can actually change.
posted by Chanther at 6:56 AM on May 25, 2002

> Seeing as how it's 150 light years away...

But we would discover just now only if it blew 150 years ago. There's no way they could say today that it blew up today because the information is 150 years away.
posted by pracowity at 6:58 AM on May 25, 2002

Excuse my cynicism, but I would be impressed if a supernova managed to kill life on earth before us humans got around to it.
posted by arielmeadow at 7:27 AM on May 25, 2002

You mean there are actually some people who still take the UN seriously on environmental issues?
posted by dagny at 7:34 AM on May 25, 2002

I'd eat a taco or something. I don't know, who really cares?

No, I've got it. I'd find that jackass classics professor from college and urinate on him. At least it'd be something.
posted by rocketman at 7:51 AM on May 25, 2002

This really is going to put a dent into my plans to live forever.

Dammit. There's always something. Stupid universe.
posted by dopamine at 7:54 AM on May 25, 2002

Wear lots of black clothing and stand in the middle of an open field covered in parabolic reflectors, all pointing at me. If we're all going to Hell, I won't be satisfied unless I'm at the head of the line.
posted by darukaru at 8:01 AM on May 25, 2002

two words: worldwide orgy
posted by evanizer at 8:36 AM on May 25, 2002


two words: worldwide orgy

Yeah, you'd have to time it extremely well though: nothing worse than going out on post-coital ennui... reckon I'd still have to stick to recreational drugs and sweet soul music.
posted by bifter at 8:57 AM on May 25, 2002

P-Funk and an assload of 'shrooms, baby!
posted by Optamystic at 9:04 AM on May 25, 2002

P-Funk and an assload of 'shrooms, baby!

Yeah, but not Maggot Brain. That'd just be *too much*...
posted by bifter at 9:07 AM on May 25, 2002

Don McKellar's Last Night, anyone?
posted by muckster at 9:17 AM on May 25, 2002

I'd rent Last Night and watch it. Then I'd aim my webcam at me and the set, so people could watch me watching Last Night. (Real answer: I'd go camping. With doughnuts and a dog, if I could find either.) On Preview -- I'd find muckster and do whatever he's doing.
posted by Yogurt at 9:25 AM on May 25, 2002

From Slashdot:


I'm Karin, the one quoted in this article as having discovered the supernova progenitor. I just wanted to let you all know to pay very little attention to the article. The reporter has taken one fact: that this might be a good candidate for a Type Ia supernova, and constructed a big mess out of it. I am very embarassed by this so I just wanted to clear up a few things.

First, I did NOTHING in the discovery process. I was just writing my senior thesis on white dwarfs and happened to study this system. It was discovered in 1993 by two separate groups of scientists (Landsman et al 1993, and Wonnacott et al 1993) They found the mass to be 1.15 solar masses, which is relatively large for a white dwarf star, but not the "just shy" of the Chandrasekhar limit that the reporter says. It is 0.3 times the mass of the sun shy of the limit, and that is a lot of mass. Lots and lots of people have studied this system since then, and many have commented on its possibilities for a supernova. All that I did in this story is to mention the system to a scientist here at Harvard who happens to simulate the evolution of a binary system towards a supernova and then mention in in a public talk about my thesis when a New Scientist reporter happened to be in the audience. The reporter got very excited and wrote this article, and left out the actual work that is being done on the evolutionary scenarios to sensationalize the possibility of a near earth supernova.

Second, what we have found, if anything, is that by the time that the white dwarf star has accreted enough mass from its companion to exceed the Chandrasekhar limit of 1.4 solar masses, it will be at least 10 kiloparsecs from earth, which is well on its way to the other side of the galaxy. The star will not pose any threat at all to earth. This is also hundreds of millions to billions of years in the future.

I think the interesting part of this story is the terrible state of scientific news reporting in some popular journals. We discussed these problems extensively with the reporter and they were completely disregarded in the final version. Be on the lookout for our letter to the editor if you are interested.

If anyone would like to know more about this, I'd be happy to explain what we really think is going on...unless you are a reporter, in which case don't bother...I'm done with them.

Karin Sandstrom

posted by SpecialK at 9:42 AM on May 25, 2002

Well, doesn't Karin suck all the fun out of the discussion. Humph.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:46 AM on May 25, 2002

um, can we still have a world-wide orgy, though?
posted by lizardboy at 9:54 AM on May 25, 2002

I'd be making sure adampsyche had plenty of cigarettes...
posted by WolfDaddy at 10:27 AM on May 25, 2002

shit karin, i was getting excited…

coming back to the discussion, i think i miss something in my post before, i would only need three things: world-wide orgy, cannabis sativa and lophophora williamsii
posted by trismegisto at 10:28 AM on May 25, 2002

Seeing as how it's 150 light years away.....

Well just in case:

Heroin and lots of masturbation. Not necessarily in that order.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 11:18 AM on May 25, 2002

" would you spend your last day on earth?"

In disbelief.
posted by semmi at 11:26 AM on May 25, 2002

Suuuuure Karin, nice try. Trotting out the old "kiloparsec" zinger I see. Everybody knows that's just faux Star Wars science.
posted by crasspastor at 12:09 PM on May 25, 2002

Everyone knows the supernova to look out for is Betelgeuse (cf. Robert J. Sawyer’s Calculating God). It’s relatively near (425 light years) & pretty old.
posted by sherman at 12:30 PM on May 25, 2002

crasspastor, I get the feeling already that I'm probably taking you far too literally, but here goes anyway.

According to NASA a kiloparsec is defined thus:
parsec (pc) - the preferred (by astronomers) unit of distance outside the solar system. Defined as the distance at which 1 Astronomical Unit subtends an angle of 1 second of arc (1/3600 of a degree), or the distance an object has to be for its parallax to equal 1 second of arc. Equal to 3.26 light years or 30,800,000,000,000 km.
kiloparsec (kpc) - 1000 parsecs.
I've no idea if Karin is who she says she is, but the use of this term hardly makes a good reason to dismiss her comments. Still, I doubt she'll see any of this anyway :)

To be honest, as an irregular reader of New Scientist (the paper edition), I'm more worried about how much more of what I read in there is rubbish of the kind suggested by Karin. Any of it? All of it? Is there a science journal that anyone could recommend for an under-educated bloke to get his fix from or should I just ignore this and carry on buying it?

If this counts as a thread hijack, I apologise in advance.
posted by Gamecat at 12:43 PM on May 25, 2002

crasspastor > Actually, she's using "parsecs" in its proper context. Han Solo's mistake was using the term as a measure of time, when in truth a parsec is a measure of distance: 3.26 lightyears, if I'm not mistaken, based on that subtended arcsecond thingy.

Heh, but I see that's explanation has worked around that particular script boo-boo by making the Kessel Run a short-distance challenge race. ;)

Bah. The media will jump on any chance to play up a remote end-of-the-world scenario. How many times have they reported about this or that asteroid narrowly missing the earth, or being poised to hit us in 2850 or something like that?

If we begin to panic, then the supernovae have already won.
posted by brownpau at 12:45 PM on May 25, 2002

My last day on earth? Screw pot or heroin or masturbation... I'd be on the phone to my broker moving all my stocks from long to short! (Ok... maybe a little masturbation too.)
posted by Swifty at 12:50 PM on May 25, 2002

Last day on Earth? I'll probably be pulling an allnighter for a dumb school assignment while everybody else has the day off. Bastards.
posted by Eamon at 1:22 PM on May 25, 2002

these aren't hard and fast figures, but I can tell you that our galaxy is about 30 kpc in diameter, and we're about 9 kpc from the galactic center. so what karin said makes sense.

star wars has never gotten distances right... in episode2, twelve parsecs is some apparently long distance. which is not just silly, but also inconsistent.
posted by rabi at 2:58 PM on May 25, 2002

The morning taking a long walk through the sunny woods by the lake with my little girl and her puppy. Then an afternoon listening to my father tell me some story for the 1000th time. Finally an evening making love with my lady while Sade and Chicago play on the stereo. Well, I'd actually like to do this every day.
posted by treywhit at 3:31 PM on May 25, 2002

Ms. Krabapple: This could be our last day together my love, how about a farewell romp in the garden of earthly delights.
Principle Skinner: Oh Edna, my sweet buttercup, you read my mind... Just give me twenty minutes or so to finish these tardy slips.

posted by sixtwenty3dc at 3:35 PM on May 25, 2002

Last day on earth? Well, I've always wanted to get around to reading Gravity's Rainbow.
posted by mischief at 4:09 PM on May 25, 2002

- I'm sure the letter from Karin is real - there is a response from the NS reporter in the same thread.

- Her advisor, Dave Latham, was also one of my advisors. He's a very cool guy who, besides being an astrophysics prof at Harvard, is also a pioneer motocross racer.

- New Scientist has this tendency to hype everything up. According to them, paradigm shifts are happening on a weekly basis - I suppose it sells magazines.I recommend browsing through some of the stuff on the left panel of - nature science update is good as is the sci am news briefs.
posted by vacapinta at 4:48 PM on May 25, 2002

One of the best treatments of this from an sf perspective is Larry Niven's novella Inconstant Moon {first half}. In the story, his characters are astonished at the brightness of the moon, and conclude that the Sun has gone nova on the other side of the planet. It was filmed for the Outer Limits a couple of years ago -- partly improved, partly not.
posted by dhartung at 5:48 PM on May 25, 2002

I'd spend my day not listening to the radio station that puts that Liz Phair song into heavy rotation.
posted by gimonca at 8:03 PM on May 25, 2002

i'd get banned from mefi. man, i'd post something so revolting and bombastic they'd still be talking about it years from now. no wait...
posted by quonsar at 9:12 PM on May 25, 2002

vacapinta: that looks like an interesting site, thanks.
posted by Gamecat at 1:11 AM on May 27, 2002

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