Alien invasion? Please. Exploring strange new worlds? So overdone. If you want to inject real drama into your next science fiction movie, novel or video game, all you need is an extremely powerful telescope and a little imagination. What do you do when a fiery, 1.2 billion km wide orb comes barrelling towards your home planet?
Luckily that’s not a question Earthlings will need to ponder. Judging by the hole it’s burned through the Tarantula Nebula as seen through the Hubble telescope, scientists believe 30 Dor 016 originated from R136, a star cluster hosting an estimated 450,000 solar masses – a breeding ground for stars. Seeing as the Tarantula Nebula is some 180,000 light years away from Earth, I’d say we’re pretty safe.
Still, the fact that such a huge heavenly body can travel so fast through space raises several questions, the moist important being: Our sun wouldn’t do that, would it?
TO answer that question, we need to look at the reasons a star would behave like this. The are two scientific reasons such an ejection could happen. First is a nearby supernova, which sounds nice and dramatic, but the R16 cluster isn’t quite old enough to have had a supernova yet.
Then there’s the possibility that the gravity between two larger stars resulted in a slingshot effect, catapulting 30 Dor 016 into open space, favoured by study author and astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute Danny Lennon.
Instead, study co-author Lennon said, “we think that a massive star has essentially interacted with a massive binary pair of stars” in a cosmic version of billiard balls. “This then caused one of the stars to get ejected in a slingshot effect.”
Then of course there are sheer fantasy theories, made up by writers at popular gaming blogs. I’m particularly fond of “Space Giant Playing Pool” and “The King Didn’t Like This Katamari”, both my own creations.
Now for the sad part. Scientist say that due to its size and age, 30 Dor 016 should be going supernova sometime over the course of the next half million years. It flared so brightly, only to burn out before its time, like a giant grenade, hurtling through the universe, ready to go off at any moment.
If that’s not space drama, I don’t know what is.
Hubble Telescope Catches Superfast Runaway Star [NatGeo]