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<   No. 479   2004-05-19   >

Comic #479

1 GM: {excited by the possibilities of what is about to happen} Hyperspace malfunction! You drop back into real space at an unknown location!
2 Spanners: Well, that does it. We're screwed.
3 Iki Piki: What makes you think we're screwed?
4 Spanners: The subtle message from the GM over there in that nebula... {nebula outside window shows a coloured pattern resembling someone giving the finger}

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That is an unretouched photograph of a small part of the Keyhole Nebula, itself part of the much larger Carina Nebula, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. The "finger" is actually a dark dust cloud superimposed in front of a bright reflection nebula, lit by the star Eta Carinae.

2013-05-10 Rerun commentary: Embedded in the Carina Nebula, and contributing a substantial amount of material to it, is the giant star Eta Carinae, which is an incredibly interesting star. It is one of the most massive stars known, and the closest star of such extreme masses to Earth (at a distance of about 8000 light years), making it the best studied giant mass star.

It's also very near the end of its life, astronomically speaking. Astronomers expect Eta Carinae to explode in a massive supernova, probably some time within the next million years or so. The problem is, nobody knows exactly when in that million years it might happen. It could be several hundred thousand years in the future, or it could be tomorrow. (Given that the light from the star takes almost 8000 years to reach us, it could even have exploded several thousand years ago, and the light from the explosion will reach us soon.)

Astronomers are also divided on what effect, if any, Eta Carinae's explosion might have on life on Earth. Earth's atmosphere and magnetic field should shield us from most of the harmful radiation and particles, though there's a chance our atmosphere itself might be damaged to a point where it becomes a problem.

Be thankful astronomy isn't a directly experimental science.

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Last Modified: Friday, 10 May 2013; 03:11:02 PST.
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