WR 104: A nearby gamma-ray burst?

By Phil Plait | March 3, 2008 11:50 am

I spend a lot of time in my upcoming book Death from the Skies! making the case that for the most part, astronomical dangers to life on Earth — especially from explosions called gamma-ray bursts — are incredibly rare, and not worth fretting over too much.

I may — may — have to change my mind.

Note: Let me be clear up front, since folks tend to worry about these things: I’m going to talk about some frightening things in this post, but my personal opinion as someone who has actually studied this stuff is that we are in no real danger. The object I’ll be describing is pretty interesting, but there are way too many uncertainties about it to cause any panic for now. So remain calm, keep your arms and legs inside the blog entry at all times, and enjoy. If you want more reassurance, just skip to my conclusion below.

Up until now, I hadn’t heard of WR 104. This is a binary star located 8000 light years away, more or less toward the center of our galaxy. The two stars are both whoppers; one is a massive O star, which will someday detonate in a tremendous supernova. However, at that great distance, it won’t do anything more than be a bright light in the sky.

The other star in the system is a bit of a worry, though. It’s what’s called a Wolf Rayet star, a massive, luminous star that is on the brink of exploding as well. In general, these also blow up as supernovae and, from 8000 light years away (80 quadrillion kilometers) it wouldn’t pose much of a threat.

But what if it explodes as a gamma-ray burst?

GRBs are a special type of supernova. When a very massive star explodes, the inner core collapses, forming a black hole, while the outer layers explode outwards. Due to a complex and fierce collusion of forces in the core, two beams of raw fury can erupt out of the star, mind-numbing in their power. Composed mostly of high-energy gamma rays, they can carry more energy in them than the Sun will put out in its entire lifetime. They are so energetic we can see them clear across the Universe, and having one too close would be bad.

Enter WR 104. The brighter of the two stars might, just maybe kinda possibly, be ready to go GRB on us. It’s not at all clear if it can, and there is reason to believe it can’t (young stars like this one tend to have characteristics that make it very hard for them to form an actual GRB). Also, even if it does blow up that way, the beams are a double-edged sword; yes, they pack an unbelievable punch, but they’re narrow. A GRB would have to be aimed precisely at us to damage us, and the odds of that are pretty low.

Except that for WR 104, it’s possible the star does have us in its sights.

The only way to know which direction a potential GRB’s beams will blast out is to look for some signs in the system of symmetry; a disk of gas, for example, would orbit the star’s equator, so the poles of that disk would be the direction the beams would follow. WR 104 does have a feature that allows us to determine its orientation — a vast spiral of material being ejected from the system.

The picture above was taken using the Keck infrared telescope in Hawaii. It shows the material being ejected. Both stars have strong winds of material they blow, like super-solar winds. These winds collide, and flow outward from the binary. The streaming gas forms a spiral pattern in the same way a rotating lawn sprinkler shoots out water. The gas doesn’t actually move along the spiral arms; that’s a bit of an illusion caused by the rotation of the system (comets sometimes show this same pattern).

University of Sydney astronomer Peter Tuthill, who has been studying WR 104 since it was discovered in 2000, has also created a dramatic movie showing the spiral pattern generated as the two stars orbit each other. The animation shown here is an older one — a newer one that is much cooler is available, but at 400kb I’ll simply link to it — but it gives you an idea of what’s going on.

The thing to note is that we really are looking at this spiral almost face-on, more-or-less down the pole of the system (it appears to be tilted by about 12 degrees from face-on, but it’s difficult to measure, and could be tilted by anything from 0 – 16 degrees — Tuthill’s technical paper has details). It’s hard to say exactly, but it’s close enough to make me wonder.

What would happen if WR 104 were to go all GRB on us?

One thing is that it would be incredibly bright. How bright is actually hard to say; GRBs are notoriously variable in brightness, and there may be quite a bit of dust between us and the system that would absorb a lot of the visible light. The major concerns from a GRB at this distance are two-fold: the impact of the high energy radiation, and the impact of subatomic particles called cosmic rays.

Models of a GRB exploding at roughly the same distance indicate that the immediate impacts are damage to the ozone layer, and the creation of nitrogen dioxide, which is basically smog. Gamma rays emitted by the burst would hit ozone molecules and shatter them, and models indicate that a GRB at this distance could deplete the ozone layer by 30% globally, with local pockets depleted by 50%. It would take years for the ozone to recover from that. Note that the ozone holes we have been dealing with the past few years are actually depletions of less than 5%. Obviously, this is a big deal.

Also, the gamma rays would break apart molecules of nitrogen in our air, which would reform as nitrogen dioxide, a reddish-brown gas that is essentially smog. This could potentially block sunlight, cooling the Earth. That may sound nice, given the reality of global warming, but in fact we’d rather not have something like this happen when we don’t understand all the implications. Plus, nitrogen dioxide is water soluble, and would precipitate down as acid rain.

So all that would be bad.

Worse, the flood of subatomic particles from such a GRB may in fact be more dangerous. These cosmic rays hit the air and create fast particles called muons, which would rain down over the Earth. How bad is that? Actually, it’s pretty uncertain; the number of variables involved is large, and the modeling of this is notoriously difficult. It’s not even clear that the cosmic rays from a GRB at this distance would even reach us, and if they did, what exactly would happen. The worst-case scenario is pretty bad — large scale mass extinctions — but I am not sure anyone really believes those models. The best case scenario is that they never reach us at all, so the range is a bit wide. :-) There’s just too much we don’t know.

Another issue is that the distance to WR 104 is uncertain. It may be 8000 light years, but other astronomers think it may be as close as 5000 light years. That does make a difference, since the damage it can inflict is sensitive to distance. Farther away is better! Tuthill’s team thinks 8000 light years is a better estimate, so that’s good.

Finally, we don’t know when such a star will explode. It could be tonight, or it may be thousands of years from now. So it’s not worth losing sleep over this!

To wrap up: WR 104 is an interesting system. Both stars are guaranteed to explode one day. If they are just regular old supernovae, then we are in no danger at all, because they are way way too far away to hurt us (a regular supernova has to be about 25 light years or closer to hurt us, and WR 104 is 300 times farther away than that). It is possible that one of the stars may explode as a GRB, and it’s possible it’s aimed at us, but we don’t know. And we don’t know exactly what effects it would have on us. So if it’s less than 10,000 years from exploding and if it blows up as a GRB and if it’s aimed at us and if there isn’t much junk between us and it, then yeah, we may have a problem. But that’s an awful lot of ifs.

Given all these uncertainties, and having researched the dangers of GRBs extensively for my book, I won’t be losing any sleep over WR 104. For now, this is just an extraordinarily cool object, and it’s worth keeping an eye on — certainly for its astronomical interest alone! But as for it being a Death Star, I think it’s way way too early to tell.

Tip o’ the lead-lined beanie to The Daily Telegraph.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, DeathfromtheSkies!, Science

Comments (177)

  1. Donnie B.

    AAAGGGHHHHH!!! We’re all gonna die! We’re all…

    Uh… wait a minute…

    We *are* all gonna die.

    [Mal Reynolds look]
    [/Mal Reynolds look]

  2. Jim Kiley

    And of course the thing that will keep me up at night is that it’s possible that it _already has_ exploded, and we just won’t notice until just before the GRB gets here.

  3. Yoshi_3up

    Interesting. Although, the odds of getting the Earth affected are really low. Is there any estimated percentage?

  4. Peter

    Um, at the risk of outing myself as an idiot, how could it be that astronomers don’t know how far away WR 104 is?

  5. andy

    Aren’t supernovae supposed to be associated with all kinds of weird asymmetric “kicks” anyway, so there’s no guarantee the GRB jet will be aligned with the present rotation axis?

  6. Tom

    Quick! Make a YouTube video before someone else does!

    WR104.org anyone?

  7. stopgap

    “Um, at the risk of outing myself as an idiot, how could it be that astronomers don’t know how far away WR 104 is?”

    Past a few lights years its much more difficult to measure the distance of stars because parallax can’t be used. Light intensity is used instead and is harder to draw out an estimate.

  8. stopgap is more or less correct. In this case, the brightness of the stars won’t help much, because the intrinsic brightness of stars in this stage is difficult to pin down.

    The astronomers tried to use the measured speed of the winds from the stars compared to the actual expansion of the spiral arm. If it moves x arcsecdons per year, and you know the wind is moving at 1000 km/sec, then you can get a distance. The problem is the wind speed is very difficult to measure from the spectra. That’s why there’s some uncertainty.

  9. Peter


    Wow, that’s really interesting. I remember seeing Phil comment once that we aren’t really sure how far away the Andromeda galaxy is and since then, I’d been meaning to ask how that could be. A three thousand light year margin of error in a 3-8K LY distance estimate seems like an alarmingly high lack of certainty about our universe.

    It’s funny how as a layman, I am usually so blissfully certain that the scientist types pretty much have everything figured out at this point about everything that I’m surprised when it turns out there’s a lot left to know…

  10. TMB

    Peter – distances to objects are probably the single hardest thing to measure in astronomy (well, that and anything that depends directly on knowing the distance… for example, while it’s easy to measure how bright an object appears from the earth, you need to know its distance precisely to figure out its intrinsic luminosity – and in fact, because brightness falls off as distance squared, uncertainties in distance propogate into uncertainties about twice as large in luminosity!).

    In the solar system, we can use radar ranging to get direct distances. For nearby stars, we can use parallax (shifting of nearby objects compared to background objects as we move around the sun), but it becomes more or less useless past 100pc. Aside from a few other funky geometrical methods (the moving cluster method is a nice one – if a cluster of stars are all moving in the same direction, they appear as if they’re all converging to a point in the sky whose position depends on how far away they are. There’s also a few edge-on maser disks in nearby galaxies that you can use to get geometric distances), most of the time you have to make assumptions about how intrinsically luminous an object is and then see how much dimmer it appears from earth.

    In this case, the distance is actually geometric, so it doesn’t require that many assumptions, but as Phil says, the true wind velocity isn’t known very well.


  11. Someone’s going to say it sooner or later…

    It’s already blown, it’s on the way, and it’ll be here on…

    wait for it…

    December 21, 2012!!!!!


  12. Jeffersonian

    So, let me get this straight.
    What you’re actually saying is that we’re all in incredible danger and we better plan now? (by adopting the new religion/not washing the car/hiding/gathering in public areas/writing out congressman/blaming foreigners/what’d I leave out?).

  13. Aerimus


    “December 21, 2012”

    I was thinking the same thing. I think I’m going to write a book about how great the Mayan were at astronomy, far more advanced then historians give them credit (and sighting several examples from other “new age” writers). Then I’ll explain how they discovered gamma ray burst hundreds of years ago and that their observations showed that this doom was impending. They predicted the date, and now the BA has given the final evidence to show that this is possible, and therefore, my conclusion must be true. I’ll make a fortune, enough to be able to either disappear when Dec 22, 2012 roles around, or at least enough to hired someone to weasel me out of the jam.

    Or maybe I’ll just go home and watch some more Doctor Who…

  14. baley

    Aren’t feeding black holes usually generate focused X rays out of the poles instead of gamma rays ?

    Anyway lets hope we will not win this lottery!

  15. Yoshi_3up

    I assume that using a big mirror shield will be enough to deflect the GRB, right? 😀


  16. tomr

    TMB–didn’t Hipparcos direclty measure distances out to ~1k parsecs? Or am I being naive in thinking that measured distance ~ 1/angular resolution?

    Anyhow, it looks like the planned Gaia mission (http://www.rssd.esa.int/index.php?project=GAIA&page=index) aims to measure a billion stars with 10’s of micro-arc-sec accuracy, which should at least tell us where WR 104 is. Damm, but we build cool spacecraft these days!

    Does anyone have a reference to those studies about the effects on the ozone layer? I think the lifetime of stratospheric ozone is pretty short, so the system should return to equilibrium quickly after a shock…and besides, wouldn’t a gamma ray turn an ozone molecule into 3 O’s? Those should find O2’s to recombine with in seconds.

    (And no, that’s not a denial that CFCs were a problem…CFC’s hang out in the stratosphere long enough to shift the equilbrium)

  17. As the Earth’s magnetic field weakens on its way to reversing, ordinary cosmic rays may become more and more of a hazard here on Earth, right? Imagine if WR104 happened to go GRB on us at the same time as our magnetic field was down!

    Any idea what the duration of a GRB would be? If it happened to hit us, how long would we be bombarded with cosmic rays & gamma radiation? Seconds, days, decades?

  18. So apart from building a Dyson Sphere with a really thick shell, what are potential protections from GRBs?

  19. Illucian

    Incredibly nifty stuff. 😀 Thanks for the explanation, Phil. And yeah, the idea that maybe it did go kaboom already and the stuff is on its way here is a bit unsettling, but what exactly can we do about it? It really is pretty nifty how things that far away could affect life clinging to a dinky little rock all the way over here.

  20. drew terry


    1. Is there a spacetime “horizon” similar to the line of sight limited by the horizon at sea?

    2. If it takes light a year to travel 1 lightyear (=9.463×10^17 meters), at 1 lightyear/year, how does the light ever reach us?

  21. Illucian

    And meant to add: I’m sure your new book mentions what, exactly, we could do about GRBs, and what it would take to do it and how effective it would be and how likely we would be to do such a thing. But if the burst was on the way and was scheduled to arrive next week… well, oh well. :)

  22. Helioprogenus

    How long would the gamma ray stream last? I know typically, they can last anywhere from a few seconds to minutes, but what are the expectations here? Is this another major variable we have little understanding of? Also, what about the stream of cosmic rays, how long will those bombard us? Since they’re a product of the gamma rays generated, then would they last as long as the gamma rays? Furthermore, couldn’t we launch a flat piece of lead of some diameter at a heading towards the star spewing the rays? At least we could try to mitigate the problem by reducing the amount of exposure on earth. Solutions anyone?

  23. Yoshi_3up

    @Sean: Pretty much nothing. If we get to be SO DAMN UNLUCKY that we get with by a GRB, we’re pretty much hosed.

  24. baley

    @ drew terry
    1. no space time horizon AFAIK not in the observable universe.

    2. guess what, it reaches us by traveling the distance! ( surprise! )
    Speed of Light is approx. 3×10^5 km/sec (300,000)
    we see the objects as they were, when the light left the objects towards our way. By looking in the sky you see backwards in time (8000 years for those stars)

  25. Cusp

    Tuthill – the originator of this story – is just down the corridor from me.

  26. asknot

    Since gamma rays travel at the speed of light, the main problem to any possible contingency/defence is that we wouldn’t know it was coming until the exact moment it hits us.

    If we knew enough about stellar evolution to be able to precisely predict when the star would go supernova based on what we observe now, we could in theory know whether or not it has already blown if we knew the exact distance. Say it was 8000 light years away and we were able to determine from the light we observe that it was 5000y from blowing, then we’d know that it actually blew 3000y ago.

    If we could figure the exact time the GRB would hit us it might be conceivably possible to put up some kind of shield in orbit and time it so that it would eclipse the GRB at exactly the right moment and block the beam from hitting the earth.

    Not knowing the exact time, our only hope would be to erect some kind of orbital shield and keep it up indefinately (or at least for the several thousands to hundreds of thousands of years that we think it will take for the star to blow). I have no idea how much that would cost and it would also block out the sun, so it would do more harm than good.

  27. Manyguns

    Here we are talking about a star in our galaxy, the assumed distance of which varies by more than 60%. Now consider that it gets much more difficult to measure the distance to objects the farther away they are and the distance just from our galaxy to the next is unfathomable (for me anyways).

    My point? When you read articles about the data collected from observing gravitational lensing and even just far far away objects (outside our galaxy) how can scientist be so assertive about their interpretation of the data? I constantly read articles about how some team of astronomers discovered all this information about some early early galaxy. I’m assuming understanding the distance to the gravitational lense and to the subject behind it would be key to understanding what is being viewed via the gravitational lense.

    Can anybody explain to me how they can be so sure, or if (I hope this is not the case) they are making more assumptions than they are letting on in the majority of their reports?

  28. Donnie B.

    The hobbits were right, we should live in holes in the ground.

    Really, really deep holes.


  29. “Imagine if WR104 happened to go GRB on us at the same time as our magnetic field was down!”

    Since gamma rays aren’t effected by magnetic fields, there would be no change.

    Even a cosmic ray/muon event would be unlikely to effect the atmosphere as much as nuclear testing did on the 50’s.

    And since the centre of the galaxy is in the Southern hemisphere, the northern hemisphere breadbaskets would largely be unaffected.

    You’d give penguins sunburn. And maybe koalas. But the ozone layer down here is gone already.

    So the biggest disruption would probably be the grounding of commercial airliners whenever Sagittarius is above the horizon. Think of the Woo that would generate.

  30. asknot

    With regards to manyguns:

    I may be in error on this, but I think that distance measures for distant galaxies can be more certain than those of stars in our own galaxy because we actually have more reliable methods of measuring distances for them. For example, we can use Type Ia supernova in those galaxies as standard candles with known luminosity so we can calculate the distance pretty precisely, or doppler shift in their spectra.

  31. I am assuming, since you didn’t mention it that the pair are not lined up with the orbit plane of the solar system. If it were/is would that give us a little better probabilty (however small) of protection by being behind the sun or one of the other (unlucky) planets?

  32. Tom Marking

    Apparently something like this has already happened. In the Ward/Brownlee book “Rare Earth” they mention SGR 1900+14 which went off on August 27, 1998. SGR as in Soft Gamma Repeater. Apparently this event was significant enough to lower the altitude of the earth’s night-time ionosphere from 90 km to 60 km and screw up satellite communications for all satellites on that side of the planet. The Ulysses spacecraft recorded a surge in gamma rays from the normal background of 200 counts per half-second to more than 100,000 counts per half-second. We think that SGR 1900+14 is located about 20,000 light-years away. Ward and Brownlee speculate about what would have happened if it was located 200 light-years away. The pulse would have been 10,000 times as strong (one billion counts per half-second) and possibly could have reached to the surface of the earth.

    Now I must admit that this kind of stuff scares the crap out me. There is absolutely no warning at all and when the pulse arrives it reaches its maximum within a few seconds. Perhaps for a really close SGR all higher forms of life on the earth facing the source would receive a lethal dose of radiation. Humans, dogs, and cats would all be gone with only the cockroaches surviving. So roughly half the population would be wiped out within a few minutes. Not sure if the physics behind SGR’s is similar to GRB’s.

    Anyway, here is a web site talking about SGR 1900+14:


    “On August 27, 1998 a giant flare from SGR 1900+14 set new records for the most intense flux of gamma-rays ever detected from a source outside our solar system. It blitzed gamma-ray and X-ray detectors on seven different spacecraft at locations throughout the solar system. Especially useful data were recorded by three experiments: the Russian Konus detector on the geo-space science Wind space probe which was orbiting near the Sun-Earth equilibrium point (“L1″), upstream of the Earth in the solar wind; the Italian-Dutch Beppo-SAX gamma-ray/X-ray observatory, in low Earth orbit; and a gamma-ray detector aboard the Ulysses spacecraft, a joint effort of the European Space Agency and NASA that was orbiting the Sun in a polar orbit at roughly the distance of Jupiter.

    NASA’s Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer (RXTE), another Earth-orbiting X-ray observatory, was pointed away from SGR 1900+14 when the burst occured, but it nevertheless recorded a strong signal. High-energy photons were diffusing through the metal shields surrounding its X-ray detectors. However, one proven workhorse for SGR studies, the Burst and Transient Source Experiment (BATSE) aboard NASA’s orbiting Compton Gamma-ray Observatory, detected nothing. The BATSE team, led by mild-mannered Charles Meegan (who is BATSE-MAN) ran out of luck that day: the Compton Observatory was on the far side of the Earth at the time of the flare.

    The flare hit the Earth on it’s night side, in the zenith over the western Pacific Ocean, at 1:22 A.M. Hawaii time. It was intense enough to strongly ionize the Earth’s outer atmosphere, affecting radio communications.”

  33. Jackie

    I just learned about the wr104 in a newspaper. And i have some questions

    1. how big are the chances that this will happen in our lifetime? any percent estimates?

    2. With the technology we have today, is it not possible to know if it hits us before it actually hits?

    question number 1 is the most important.

  34. @LabLamming:

    I know the magnetic field doesn’t do squat against gamma rays (photons have no charge), but it does plenty to divert charged cosmic rays.

  35. Question about parallax:
    Would putting the parallax-measuring satellite around Jupiter instead of Earth give a 5-fold improvement in resolution? ’cause, you know, the bigger orbit.

  36. B.A. wrote:

    [quote]GRBs are a special type of supernova.[/quote]

    Waaaaaaait a minute … I thought that if it produced a Gamma-Ray Burst (as a result of its core collapsing into a black hole), we called it a [b]hyper[/b]nova.

  37. Fitz


    1) Dunno. Pretty tiny I would think.
    2) Gamma rays travel at the speed of light. Information cannot travel faster than the speed of light. So the earliest we could know about it is when it is here.

  38. Stan/Tx

    If the two stars are in a orbit with an 8 month period, is it still possible that one of them is spinning rapidly? Do stars gravitationally lock?

  39. psychman

    Okay, now that I own…

    WR-104.COM (WR104 was taken)

    …Can anyone think of something cool to do with any of them? And, yes, I know how geeky it was to grab these domains, but I couldn’t resist. :)

  40. Gary Ansorge

    SO, it MAY be pointing close enough to us to make a problem, if it has already gone poof and the gamma ray burst is nearly here however,,,how long before it’s pointed too far off our axis to do us any harm? 10years? 20? When everything is in motion, the probability that we’ll have a direct hit is nearly,,,what,,,infinitesimal???

    GAry 7

  41. TMB

    LabLemming: Yes! I know people have discussed it before and I’m not sure why it’s never progressed anywhere. I suspect the cost ends up being too high, but I’m not sure.

    tomr: The distance error is 1/error-in-position, but the error in position depends both on the angular resolution of the telescope and the brightness of the star. More distant stars are most often fainter, so the relative distance error actually rises more dramatically with distance than you’d naively expect. So there are some stars with good parallax distances beyond 100pc, but not that many. Gaia will definitely help!!

    Manyguns: A couple of points. The first point, as asknot says, is that galaxies are large conglomerations of many objects, and that means there are generally more methods that you can use to try to measure their distances. If you can resolve individual stars (which is possible for about the nearest 20Mpc), you can use methods that work for individual stars, but you can also hope that there’s a supernova, use aggregate properties like how fast the galaxy spins, or for distant enough galaxies measure how fast they’re receding.

    The other point is that it turns out that it’s much much easier to measure relative distances than absolute distances. Getting relative distances of galaxies to 5% is usually not too hard, but getting absolute distances of galaxies to much better than 10% is cutting edge. When you’re trying to understand the relative relationships between objects, the relative distances often matter more. For example, in the case of gravitational lensing, that you mention, there’s a very straightforward relationship between the relative source-lens distance and the probability of lensing, that doesn’t depend at all on how far the lens is from us (ie. when you see a gravitational lens event, most likely the source is twice as far from us as the lens).


  42. If it’s 5000 light-years away, won’t the GRB take at least 5000 years until it reaches us?

  43. Preben

    Hello there!

    I’ve heard the norwegian astronomer, Knut Jørgen Ødegaard talk about these kind of stars, and yes supernovas isn’t especially dangerous for us if they are not less than 25 light years away. But he says that stars like this, we have to be more than 2 million light years away to be “safe”, thats a lot more than 8000 light years.

    One thing; could the star already have exploded 7999 years ago? I thought we would been dead already then since I suppose such a gamma ray thing will travel much much faster than the light.

    For my last question; can the sun save us? Lets say the sun is between us and the death star, will that help at all?

  44. John Phillips, FCD

    Preben, even a gamma ray can ‘t travel faster than visible light as a gamma ray, like visible light, is also part of the electromagnetic spectrum. The only difference is that gamma rays are at the extreme high energy, extreme low frequency end of the spectrum beyond X-Rays.

  45. Norsk

    Nothing travels faster than light. Never heard of Einstein’s relativity?

  46. Simen

    I would think that the “if” which is most likely to save our planet in this particular case, is the angle at which we are situated relative to the pole of this system.

    I mean: If your aim is off by 1 degree and you have the firepower and patience to fire at something from 8000 light years away, you’re going to miss by a pretty wide margin.

    These gamma rays are pretty focused, right?

  47. Lars Bruchmann

    Psychman! Way to go, maybe the BA has some great ideas as to what to do with those domains!
    jeffersonian: you left out blaming the Jews! It must be their fault, right?? (I’m totally joking!!!)

  48. Simen

    It would really be interesting to know how focused such gamma rays would be. If the rays aren’t dispersed at all I would guess that even such a slight angle-offset as 0.00001 degrees would cause the ray to miss the earth by as much as 4 000 000 km (if my calculations are right)

    [MissDistanceInKm] = [DistanceOfLightYear]*8000*(1-Cos([AngleOffset]))

  49. “GRBs are a special type of supernova.”

    Apart from SN1998bw, I’ve never heard of a concrete connection. Are all GRB’s now considored SNs? Could you please link a paper that shows this?

  50. Mr. Ed

    So many responses and not one word about all the superpowers we’d get from the gamma rays.

  51. Olavur

    One question: Won’t this even if not directed at us effect our solarsystem so that it might move out of it’s regular orbit?

  52. Lerxst

    Wouldn’t we be able to prevent this if we buy enough interstellar gamma quotas?

  53. andy

    Manyguns: what it comes down to is that some objects are easier to figure out distances to than others. There are “standard candles” which have known luminosities, which you find out from measuring the distances to nearby ones by parallax measurements.

    Unfortunately WR 104 is not one of these standard candles: Wolf-Rayet stars are unstable and rapidly evolving. Furthermore the system is too far to measure distance directly by parallax measurements.

  54. zeke

    How does Cerenkov radiation reconcile with relativity?

  55. Sean O’Hara posts:

    [[So apart from building a Dyson Sphere with a really thick shell, what are potential protections from GRBs?]]

    Not sure about how to protect ourselves from GRBs, but I wanted to note that Dyson Spheres are not supposed to be solid shells. They are clouds of orbiting space platforms. You can’t really have a hollow spherical shell that size. Gravity tends to make really large objects try to get spherical. A solid Dyson shell would break up into tiny fragments.

  56. TMB

    H.Wolfe: There’s also unambiguosly GRB 030329A/SN 2003dh (Hjorth et al. 2003), GRB 031203/SN 2003lw (Malesani et al. 2004), and GRB060218/SN 2006aj (Cobb et al. 2006). I’d say that the association of long-duration GRBs with Ic supernovae is fairly concrete. The jury’s definitely still out on short-duration GRBs, though.


  57. Peikko

    To Zeke:

    Relativity describes the speed of light in a vacuum as constant. It travels slower through other mediums. Cerenkov radiation deals with particles traveling through a medium (ie water) faster the the speed of light in that medium. This is possible under the theory of relativity.

  58. bill

    can we use the energy?

  59. Eric

    So with all those gamma rays and cosmic rays, have scientists determined whether or not I’ll be the Hulk or the Thing?

  60. Dan

    In discussing distance of objects lets not forget the possibility of a gravitational lens which can distort all the factors used to determine distance.

  61. Rakosnicek

    I have some questions…

    How will our motion around the galaxy, relative to where this star system is, change our perspective on these binary stars?

    If we are “looking down” on it now, will our position in the galaxy change with time sufficiently to reduce the impact?

    How does the GRB dispurse over distance?
    At 8000ly, what is the area covered by the cone vs 8, 80 and 800ly?

    (Note that over a long enough period of time, the appearance of constellations in the sky that we see every night will change.)

  62. StevoR

    I asked this in the “most likely supernova star” thread but I’ll ask again here if I may :

    1) Have any supernovas actually been confirmed or observed as being produced or comingfrom Wolf-Rayet stars or is this only stellar theory?

    2) Could the nearby binary stars Procyon or Sirius produce a type Ia (“white dwarf”) supernova – each is abright, relatiely againg star plus a white dwarf so the ingrediants are there for mass exhange & cataclysmic eruptions aren’t there? *


    3) If so when .. Prcoyon is 11 ly off & already evolving into a sub-giant star.

    Is Procyon b ultimately more of a threat than WR_104 given afew hundred million years? 😉

    Sorry if this has already been covered on the other “supernova” BA feedblitz-thingy thread – afraid I haven’t checked yet..

    * A scenario – using the “Pup” Sirius B as the exploder – explored in a rather good if now dated (millennium 200-based) Sf novel ‘Supernova’ by Roger MacBride Allen & Eric Kotani. (Avon books, 1991.)

  63. rjp22

    Is it really the case that any burst is guaranteed to be perpendicular to the plane of the spiral?

  64. Chris

    What if it already exploded 7999 years ago? Put our heads between our legs and kiss it all goodbye?

  65. Christian Treczoks

    This gamma-ray and particle beam – how narrow/focused is such a beast in terms of degrees?

  66. Simen


    Apparently such GRB cones can have a dispersion which is anywhere between 2 and 20 degrees (according to wikipedia) [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gamma_ray_burst ].

    If our angle of observation of this system off by 0-16 degrees (as suggested), then I guess it means that there is a distinct probability (I would guess > ~20%) that Earth would be struck by a hypothetical GRB emanating from WR 104. However, I would guess that it would also have to be taken into consideration that, if we are hit by a cone which is very dispersed, then the impact of the strike would also be significantly smaller than if we are hit by a very focused GRB.

    Let’s just hope that there isn’t going to be any GRB coming from this thing.

  67. Chris Sw

    Dang it you all just ruined the ending of “Lost” for me.

  68. Abe

    I think it’s gonna be really hard for it to hit us because we’re still all revolving around the sun and everything IS still always moving. Hehehe unless it’s one of our astrophysicists then it will have to somehow track our every movement like a guided rocket or something.

  69. cerealkiller

    I’m going to have to go with the theory that the Mayan’s predicted this and this is the reason we will all die December 21, 2012. That would be the coolest day to have a birthday on. Everybody would blame you for the apocalypse. Although the chances are really slim that we would get hit. But then again, there’s still a chance.

  70. StevoR posts:

    [[2) Could the nearby binary stars Procyon or Sirius produce a type Ia (”white dwarf”) supernova – each is abright, relatiely againg star plus a white dwarf so the ingrediants are there for mass exhange & cataclysmic eruptions aren’t there? * ]]

    No. They are separated from one another by many AUs. For a type IA supernova you need a close binary.

    [[3) If so when .. Prcoyon is 11 ly off & already evolving into a sub-giant star.
    Is Procyon b ultimately more of a threat than WR_104 given afew hundred million years?

    No. Procyon A doesn’t have enough mass to go supernova. It’s only about 1.75 Solar masses, and I think you need at least 3-8, somewhere in that range.

  71. Oh, and Procyon and the Sun have signficantly different galactic orbits. By the time Procyon is a red giant, we may be nowhere near it. In general the present close-by stars are not the close-by stars we had 100 million years ago or will have 100 million years from now.

  72. kamran

    How soon is it gonna happen ? I mean the gamma ray attack to Earth. When it will reach to the Earth ? After how many years ?

  73. HTN

    Just a sci-fi sort of thought regarding warning time … how long does it take that GRB beam, which would form in the collapsing core, to exit the WR star? My guess is the neutrinos would get here first, but by how much?

    I seem to recall that the visible light SN1987A arrived here a few hours later than the neutrinos did.

  74. Sparkiwi

    Most interesting to me would be discussion comparing the estimates of the interval between current obsevation and the GRB event and the rate of shift of WR104’s relative polar axis

  75. This is one of the reasons I like this site: something 8000 light years away gest filed under “local news”.

  76. A great article about this marvellous phenomenon :)


  77. Canada Bob

    Seems like a slim if any chance to me, depending on the width of the beam. Look at it this way, unless the “beam” is 186 Million miles wide, and also “centred” on the Sun we are in the clear.

    If the beam aint 186 Million miles wide then even if it’s headed for our solar system our rotation around the Sun makes us a moving target, giving us {even if the burst lasts for 24 hours} 364 “safe” places to be in our orbit around the Sun per year.

    So if you add this to the odds of it even pointing in our direction then I think you’ll see that we have little if anything to be concerned about.

    Canada Bob.

  78. The beam is actually several light years wide by the time it gets here from 8000 ly away. :-)

  79. Canada Bob

    Right then, time to put me tin hat back on…

    Then again, if we are looking at WR 104 as it was {pointing} approx 8000 years ago, won’t we have moved out of it’s target zone now ?

    Canada Bob.

  80. gwantezz

    In your oppinion,how do you think,will we survive until our childs get grown?:) write me an e-mail 😉

  81. Seatco

    Our local cloud is nore dangerous than WR 104.

  82. demtel

    i read sometime ago an article in either new dawn or nexus about gamma burst rays and possibly dissappearing stars, the author noted patterns of GRBs being ‘fired’ and stars dissappearing in such exchanges. was pretty freaky and made sense as much as I could ascertain and certainly if this pre-grb entity is being angled onto us like some cosmic artillery canon then maybe we should all think twice about all the green lasers we are pointing into the skies at night. Often I have wondered that I would be on the recieving end of a grb after pointing my 100mw green laser at a star and ‘tickling’ it to see if it would respond:)

  83. Concrescent

    Because of the nature of the WR104 GRB Event, i.e. unpredictable from Earth before the fact, and its location – ‘dead on’, as it were, between Earth and the galactic central core (pardon the pun), it would indicate that the Mayans had to have *been told* about the certainty of an event *that had already occured*, in making their prediction for 12/21/2012. Predicting the arrival date of the GRB wave front at Earth is easy if you’ve already been to WR104 and watched it explode.

    If the Mayans were the only source for that End Date, it would be easier to dismiss, but the same doomsday date suddenly appears in the records of the ancient Chinese, and Hindus, and Egyptians, and Sumerians, and Maiori, and Hopi, and Celts, (and so on) – and *all at the same time, 3,500 years ago*.

    Its as if someone visited the Earth, and made a deliberate effort to seed that information into cultures around the world, as a warning, which they hoped would endure through history – at least somewhere – until the present day. The fact that the date equivalent to December 21, 2012 is *literally carved in stone* in various representations by a dozen ancient unrelated cultures distributed around the planet is worth paying attention to.

    The Mayan frescoe reproduced at the end of the Dresden Codex shows a goddess pouring water upon the Earth to scourge the “evil” from below. The NOx acid rain described above, or, indeed, the gamma/cosmic ray particle bombardment from the heavens itself would seem to fulfill that description.

    Of course, there is also Solar Max in 2012 (peak solar flare and sunspot activity), Earth’s diminishing magnetic field (indicative of impending geomagnetic Pole Shift), and the newly increasing frequency of the Shumann Resonance to make us wonder, as well, among other things….

    e) All of the Above

  84. According to Ritz’s balistic relativity theory (source velocity added to velocity of light) the axis of the GRB “swords” would be in the orbital plane of the binary that produces the GRBs and the sword’s sharp edges would be perpendicular to the orbital plane.

    If this is true, then WR104 should not pose a threat to us.

    Please see:

    Ritzian Gamma-Ray Bursts

  85. Kevon

    # The Bad Astronomeron 08 Mar 2008 at 4:22 pm
    The beam is actually several light years wide by the time it gets here from 8000 ly away.

    Wouldn’t this tend to weaken the beam considerably by spreading out the Gamma Rays?

  86. no one of consequence

    I just heard about this star this morning on Coast to Coast with Art Bell (I just listen on occasion for a good chuckle — honest!).

    Anyway, this story is particularly interesting to me, since I had a dream about 2 years ago that I think depicted such an event quite accurately. There are personal/spiritual aspects to the dream that I will not share, so you get the watered down version:

    I found myself standing on a white, sandy beach. I looked around at all the people frolicking joyfully on the beach. There was something very serene and surreal feeling about the entire scene… there was a golden-yellow hue cast all around.

    I heard a voice tell me to leave the beach immediately and go directly to a nearby fallout-type shelter, because “the earth would soon burn with fervent heat”. Once inside the shelter, I was able to look out over the beach through a narrow horizontal opening. The space inside the shelter was small, but the shelter itself seemed quite massive… with walls at least 3 feet thick, and a roof of concrete and lead(?) a dozen or more feet thick. As I entered the shelter and peered out the opening, immediately the landscape turned brighter. It was deathly silent. Everyone on the beach stopped and, shading their eyes, looked skyward. Everyone started screaming in pain. A few yard from the shelter a man stumbled by, staring wide-eyed at the skin on his arms, which, only a few seconds after the bright light appeared, was now bright red and blistering up right before my eyes. He was being microwaved alive! He didn’t immediately die, but stumbled out of view. And then the light faded…

    Didn’t mean to paint such a grisly picture… but the dream made a huge impact on me… it was oh-so-real. So when I heard about this star it just made me wonder.


  87. john

    Just a question. If it explodes will it take 5000 to 8000 years to get here ?

  88. FRT

    Well so much for listening to these left-wing crazies from the “Church of Al Gore” that we are all going to die from “Global-Scamming”….One thing about earth…if and when the gamma rays do strike and if it is a direct hit all life will fry in a second or two…is that eventually life will start all over again and hopefully this time we will do it without the left-wing screw-pots who have made this one so maddening!

    We are not the first civilization or life to inhabit earth…and we surely will not be the last!


  89. […]
    External links

    * WR 104: A nearby gamma-ray burst? http://www.badastronomy.com/bablog/2008/03/03/wr-104-a-nearby-gamma-ray-burst/

    Smile, you’re on wikipedia! 😉

  90. Concrescent

    Yep, and here’s the correct link to it:


  91. Nick

    I am personally not worried, but…

    John, et al who asked-

    Yes. It will take 5000-800 years for the GRB to get here.

    The point is, that if the anniversary of the event is 8000 years ago tomorrow the ray burst will arrive tomorrow.

    So, eat drink and be merry, however…

    FRT- The nobel-prize winning scientific community is universal in its agreement that global warming is not a scam. By your reasoning, since the death of my son is ultimately inevitable, I shouldn’t bother bringing him to the doctor when he is sick.

    Deep 6

  92. to all those who are wondering that if a GRB did happen, it would be here in about 10 seconds to a minute. so no need to stay awake at night waiting for it to come. when it happens, we wont even know what hit us. oh, and about 12-21-12 a guy already made a book about it.

  93. Someguy

    Wow, I think I just saw you on Sci-Fi Channel’s “Countdown to Doomsday.” That was interesting, although it was kinda dissapointing when the guy said that we may want to create an arc to bring us back. Um… that’s a good idea, but also kinda cheap way out. Let’s actually try protecting the planet instead of playing zombie species. lol

  94. I am personally excited at the possibilities of impact and punishment like any good Christian. When hearing of pinball wizards, giant comets or killer asteroids, one can not but await and pray for the best choice in order to finish this world. Isn’t our main religion about waiting for the horrible day, the day of the rage of the Lord? We have been reared to wait and see. And it’s not only our religion, on further inspection. In the words of a Chinese philosopher: waiting is not waiting. http://lulu.com/astrology
    Today I was nested and hooked to NASA’s announcement when just a supernova remnant was announced. Japanese scientists at least theoretically find new planets. We should have more Nibiroids in the sky, speed up KELU-1 and manipulate the media, so perhaps that policemen shall drop the gun and swords become plows, perhaps. On the other hand there is no reason to drop a gun at all, since the fun begins with Armageddon.

  95. Wow… you sure sell on crazy. Good job!

  96. Is this Klaudio guy for real?!

  97. Tony R

    I’m a layman when it comes to this stuff, but it is interesting.
    If I understand correctly WR104 or WR140 which MSN news incorrectly refered to it as is @8000 ly away that means we are looking at an object that was in this location in our sky 8000 years ago. Where the heck is it now if it’s moving? Is it moving along side us or passing us in the fast lane, moving to or from us. How can someone get even close at predicting a possible bombardment if they can’t tell us where it is now?

  98. Someguy

    Good point. lol Score one for the layman.

  99. Michael Martin-Smith

    A human(e) technological civilisation which occupies a sphere of >2-3 thousand light years will be immune from extinction by GRBs, just as an interplanetary civilisation will be immune from catastrophic climate change, major asteroid/somet impacts , or supervolcanos.

    A civilisation confined to the surface of one planet is, we now know, unsustainable, however “Green” we make it. It would, in any case, most likely be totalitarian and, ergo, NOT human(e).
    WE have a logical path ahead of us, if we care to take it:-
    1/ space tourism leads to cheap access top Space ( 15-30 years)

    2/ lunar bases ( already foreseen by several Governemnts in Asia as well as the West) lead to Solar Power satellites and end of energy shortages ( 30-50 years). Access to vast ET resources follows shortly.

    3/ Interplanetary civilisation evolves around Sol leading to O’Neill style dispersed city states/small nations ( 200-500 years).

    4/ solar sails demonstated in orbit- 2010-1014- the Planetary Society

    5/ solar sails built in Space’+ banks of solar powered lasers set up inside the orbit of Mercury., to support interstellar exploration with solar sail driven probes( 100-200 years)

    6/ O’Neill Islands fitted with solar sails and sent ,. on the slow route , to nearer stars( launch 500 years arrive 1500 years).

    7/ O’Neill colonists use “local” asteroids and comets to set up daugheter civilisations and prepare new colonies to migrete onwards

    8/ An expanding sphere of human and posthuman societies occupy a sphere of 2-3 thousand light years’ radius, immune from GRB extinction( 5 million years)

    9/ If new physics, eg fusion or anti matter propulsion , are developed, phase 8 is reached in c 500,000 years

    10/ Hominid evolution proceeds and, in time, the Galaxy as a whole becomes a thinking, self-reflecting entity ( many millions of years)

    The above is a possible future; the others are
    1/neoMalthusian collapse , or

    2/a new totalitarian “civilisation” based on the ascendancy of Green Global warming theory and anti-human philosophy. This will of course collapse impotently before natural forces which a simplified Green culture will be powerless to transcend ( hurrah, say the misanthropes).

    For us, the main lesson is to learn to regard Space exploration and development not as frivolous luxuries and waste, but as essential life insurance for our descendants!

  100. Taffy

    Further study of the Wolf-Rayet systems will show that these objects each have a cycle. Early WR to Late WR. How fast each goes through the WR phase is likely a product of the mass of the star. In this case there has been some mass loss to the companion star as well as the mass loss indicative of very massive objects. Many begin as massive hot O stars and evolve in a few million years to Luminous Blue Variable stars (LBV’s / see Eta Carinae) before moving into the WR stages. There is very good evidence that this is in fact the path. Under some circumstances the stars may be too massive and so unstable that they supernova before they reach the WR stage, (my guess for Eta Carinae) but WR104 looks to have a low enough mass threshold and will continue through the WR phases. Until there is decidedly more information and study of the WR systems and how binary systems interact we can’t know how far WR104 has progressed. Being that this is a young system I would lean heavily toward WR104 not being an issue for many thousands of years regardless of it’s axis.

  101. AlphaOmega

    Fear not, my children.

  102. Juggernaut

    With the close proximity of a Gamma Ray burst, being within 6 to 8000 light years away, the black hole remaining, can finally give us the information we need to understand how we can be able to explain what lays beyond the space time fabric. The first man to figure out how to use this energy from the black hole will send us to the classification #1 civilization. We need hypothetical formula’s now on how to harness and channel that energy from macro to nano for space travel. Please hurry because I really hate not even being a #1 classification civilization. Infinite possibilities.I am personally classified as a -3 classification as you can probably tell, so I need you smart guys to help me out.

  103. Craig

    It’s a great read but…

    What you have measured is the axis about which the 2 stars rotate around each other, not the actual axis of rotation of the WR star itself.
    The 2 are not neccessarily aligned.

  104. StevoR

    Many months ago – March 6th, 2008 at 9:47 am – a long time esp. in the net-world; Barton Paul Levenson kindly replied & answered my question :

    “StevoR posts:

    [[2) Could the nearby binary stars Procyon or Sirius produce a type Ia (”white dwarf”) supernova – each is abright, relatiely againg star plus a white dwarf so the ingrediants are there for mass exhange & cataclysmic eruptions aren’t there? * ]]

    No. They are separated from one another by many AUs. For a type IA supernova you need a close binary.

    [[3) If so when .. Prcoyon is 11 ly off & already evolving into a sub-giant star.
    Is Procyon b ultimately more of a threat than WR_104 given afew hundred million years? ]]

    No. Procyon A doesn’t have enough mass to go supernova. It’s only about 1.75 Solar masses, and I think you need at least 3-8, somewhere in that range.”

    & Barton Paul Levenson also wrote on March 6th, 2008 at 9:49 am :

    “Oh, and Procyon and the Sun have signficantly different galactic orbits. By the time Procyon is a red giant, we may be nowhere near it. In general the present close-by stars are not the close-by stars we had 100 million years ago or will have 100 million years from now.”

    Thanks BPL – belated but sincere! :-)

    Your answer is appreciated & I hope you’re able to see this post somehow.

    Apologies for not responding *much* earlier but afraid events intervened …

    PS. This thread is Wiki-linked to their entry on Wolf-Rayet 104. Neat. :-)
    (Not my doing, searching for info & found out.)

  105. GRBs are isotropic which means that they are not directionally biased. It would be a random shot from WR104 if we get hit from a GRB.

    Don’t Panic.

  106. And Kelt, you got this misinformation from where exactly? Because it’s totally wrong. GRBs are beamed as I have said pretty clearly in this and about a dozen other posts.

  107. Bond James Bond

    Should I use my special extra dark “solar eclipse” viewing sunglasses for the GRB or are my BlueBlockers good enough?

    My retinas sure aren’t what they used to be.

  108. Taras

    If WR104 does in fact explode as a gamma ray burst and we take a direct hit from one of the beams, a lot of people and animals will absorb a lethal dose of radiation almost instantly, to say nothing of plant life and the havoc it would wreak upon the atmosphere. The damage it would do to life here would be severe, on the order of the asteroid impact and mega volcanic eruptions in present day India occurring at the same time which killed off the dinosaurs. But a Wolf-Rayet star is also very unstable and because of that they shed massive amounts of material back into space. As they shed material, angular momentum is also shed, and what is required for a gamma ray burst is a massive, rapidly rotating star. If the core is not spinning rapidly enough when it does become a black hole, no gamma ray burst takes place. it has to spin rapidly enough so magnetic fields in the material around the black hole can fire off relativistic jets long enough for them to blast through the star’s outer layers. A star that has it’s outer envelope of hydrogen and helium will not let the jets reach the surface with enough energy to produce a gamma ray burst, but a star devoid of that same envelope will allow the jets to fire off into space with their full intensity. If the hydrogen rich outer envelope is still present, an ordinary core-collapse supernova destroys the star and spares us. For a gamma ray burst to occur, it takes a set of circumstances that fortunately for us occur very rarely. and just being a massive star in and of itself does not make it a candidate to explode as a gamma ray burst.

  109. Virgin Mary told us on message number 3.106.
    January 8, 2009. Message from Our Lady of Peace, Anguera, Bahia , Brazil.
    Dear Sons and Daughters, open your hearts and joyfully receive My appeals. I come from heaven in order to lead you to heaven. Be dócil. Don´t cross your arms. Make the effort to live your true role as christians. Humanity is heading towards a great suffering. God is calling you and is waiting for you with open arms. Pay attention. A GREAT LIGHT WILL BE VISIBLE IN THE SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE. IF PEOPLE ARE NOT CONVERTED, FIRE WILL FALL FROM HEAVEN AND A GREAT PART OF HUMANITY WILL BE DESTROYED. WHAT I HAVE SAID IN THE PAST WILL BE REALIZED. Bend your knees in prayer. Your victory is in The Lord. Forward. Hurry, and don´t back out.This is the message I transmit to you today in the name of The Most Holy Trinity. Thank you for permitting Me to reunite here once more. I bless you in the name of The Father, and of The Son, and of The Holy Spirit. Amen. Be at peace.


  110. @Tony : & his message from the “Virgin Mary”

    Given the “VirginMary” is “divine” & given our current age – unlike the Biblical one actually does, y’know know something about science couldn’t the “Virgin Mary” say something like :

    Look at this particular star called Wolf-Rayet 104 its about to blow – in X days , months, years! Your astronomers have already measured the spin angle but its actually 0.0 degrees and coming right at you – for verification the next supernova (assuming it ain’t WR-104) will be taking place in the galaxy NGC whatebver whatever-whatever ..?

    Now that’d be worth looking at!

    Actually is WR-104 in the Southern hemisphere? I’m not sure. Maybe, it could be Eta Carinae instead -in which case a cryptic reference to the star of the keyhole and Homunculi could be semi-convincing evidence this phantasm knows what she’s (?) talking about …??

    … Or, well now, evidence only that she read this specific post! Sigh.

    Incidentally, at 7,500 light-years away and supernova by Eta Carinae would be awesome and not very dangerous. It would, however, be a superb start to the 2009 International Year of Astronomy! 😉 8)

  111. &Bein’Silly :

    “- for verification the next supernova (assuming it ain’t WR-104) will be taking place in the galaxy NGC whatebver whatever-whatever ..?”

    Hey what’s wrong with a supernova going off in one of the Messier galaxies – M31 or M51 or the star burst galaxy M82?

    Or hey, even one of the Magellanic Clouds?

    (Hmm .. the Large one had its turn back in 1987 – its about time for the SMC to show us what it can do ! 😉

    Their NOT all “New” General Catalogue galaxies you know! 😉 8)

  112. phil

    These are events that happen over a cosmic time scale. From a statistical standpoint, it is highly unlikely that such an event, even if it is imminent, would happen during our lifetimes, or even during the lifetime of the human race.

  113. falseProphet

    Hmm lets’ see, if we can avoid gamma bursts, black holes, asteroid/comet impacts, earthquakes, volcanoes, sudden pole reversals/tilting, mega solar flares, galactic arm shock waves..and cancer, we still die anyway. Whew I feel better.

  114. Mickey

    I thought Dr Grant Hill had established the beam to miss the earth with as much as 40 degrees on the AAS meeting? I read 0.0 degrees here…

  115. Grant Hill’s paper is:
    WR 104: Are We Looking Down The Gun Barrel of a Future GRB?
    American Astronomical Society, AAS Meeting# 213,# 341.03, 2009.

    A conclusion is that for WR 104 “the spectroscopy indicates a higher inclination than that of the imaging”.

  116. Lanulos

    the idea would be to find that which exceeds the speed of light (that which simultaneously destroys sub-atomic particles) and develop a detector so the returning data would “race” the gammas back to us – BUT – how much warning time would that really give us – anyhow ???

  117. Rich

    In addition to the economy, our inevitable advancing age, the possibility of becoming ill, etc., now there’s WR 104. I say it’s time to break out the
    prime rib,lobsters, fetuccine alfredo, calamari, lasagna, bolognese sauce, Arthur Avenue NYC bread, the best wines, cannoli, espresso, Sambuca,and hug those you love…… and as my mother used to say: “Whattaya gonna do?”

  118. that is kinda scary… but less scary, overall, than say… what cholesterol might be doing to my arteries.

  119. jesse

    man it will not happen for a while im not worried about it like they said take it like a grain of salt.

  120. sam

    i dont think WR 104 is goin to cause the earth any damage because there is a small chance that WR 104 is even capable of making a gamma ray and even if it did there is the chance that it might not even hit earth.

  121. Josh

    It’s 8000 light years away. If we take the narrowness of the GRB to be negligible (which isn’t unreasonable compared to 8000 light years), then a 2.94 x 10^-15 degree angle would sweep out the diameter of the earth. That means, if you stood on the surface of WR 104 with a protractor you would need to be a quadrillionith of a degree from the EXACT diagonal to the earth to do damage. The chances of WR 104 to be in this 2.94 x 10^-15 degree span is extremely unlikely.

    If we all die by this WR 104 GRB, then I will give everyone 5 million dollars.

  122. James R Leming

    “Help! Mr. Wizard! …HELP…!!

  123. Ducky

    Is this thing on?…….tap,tap,tap……..1,2,3……..check,check.
    Hello?……..Hello?. Oh, Hi there!.
    “Thinking is the best way to travel”
    Nuthin’ but net.

  124. zsuzsa

    The spiral nebula reminds me of the drawing in the “Lost Book of Nostrodamus”. The spiral is in front of the scorpion and seems to indicate the end of the world as we know it. Maybe related to 12/21/2012.

  125. kwt

    I have not read all comments, but I have a question. How would the gamma stream affect the sun? In 2012, the sun will be in line with the galactic center and wr104. It’s obviously too close to feel safe and the blast could arrive at any time or never. If the sun takes the bullet or the “arrow”, then would that affect the sun’s intensity, solar wind, or magnetic field and flares? This could mean the difference between a relatively quick end, or a slow, agonizing demise taking years. On the bright side, it might buy us a little time to either destroy each other or try to overcome. Disregard the human nature aspect. :-) I’m just curious about the effects on the sun.

  126. Passenger

    Hello guys. I had read all the comments. Very interesting.

    There is a person who uses a pseudonym “Astralwalker” and who has interesting information to share.

    I think this person had solved the mystery how the gamma stream will affect the sun.

    Interesting parallel for 2012 is given also.


    Check it out. You want be disappointed. Get ready for a life time changing event.



  127. Mike Anderson

    I talked with this guy this weekend at a convention in Chicago, and he gave me his site that is close to the 2012 thing posted by Passenger. This has me concerned if this is the case, as everyone who says “to soon” to know and “ifs”…when we do know, it will be too late. here is the guys site to look at.


    this “Astralwalker” site might might also explain why the sun has been so quite during this solor cycle.


  128. Phoebe Hogan

    the collision of sub atomic particles would cause a catostrophic combination of helium dioxide, hydrogen fioxide, nitrogen bioxide, lithium neutrons and sodium phosphide protons, would cause the inconceivable destruction of the planet we call home!


  129. Just saw this system mentioned on Michio Kaku’s Sci Fi Science on the Science Channel and had to do a little more research on it. I think he failed to emphasize all the ifs involved.

  130. Matt

    What are the odds that this GRB, 8,000 l.y. away, would be aimed directly at us? Astronomical! Obviously some one somewhere sees us as a threat. This should be considered indirect evidence that E.T is out there — and he doesn’t like us!!!

  131. tom hansen

    just listened to joshua warren on coasttocoastam.com thursday Jan. 2010 speaking on this threat for 2012

  132. tom hansen

    Im also looking up what Nostradamus said about a blue star and apparently can now be seen

  133. John Brennan

    I saw the Michio Kaku show and was wanting more and websurfed here. I read the posts and saw the latest was this 2012 doomsday stuff, so I went to the Coast To Coast AM website and found out you can get the show as a download. on the show Joshua P. Warren got the info from a guy in Chicago at a convention, as he said on the Coast To Coast Am Radio (I had to buy the streamlink service to get the show from yesterday). In the downloaded program interview Joshua said the guy does not want to be known as it could effect his job. Looking at the link above mentioned, it seems someone from the convention posted the guys site. Only problem, he used his name in the link! What a blunder! I tuned in to Coast To Coast Am Radio tonight and was hoping for more info on this subject, but the only bit of info was “The Guy from Chi-town” called in at one point and made a connection to the 7 signs of the Apocalypse and a star called Wormwood. After he called in I came back here and looked at this guys site, he gives a good case for the 2012 thing and wr-104 being the smoking gun, and if this is what is going on then we are all doomed! We better live it up and party on now before we all get cooked! “The Guy” said if you look at the animated time lapse picture of wr-104, it looks like a worm, so I went looking, and here is what I can assume what he meant. http://www.astro.lsa.umich.edu/~monnier/WR104/wr104_files/movie.gif
    The motion of wr-104 does look like a worm…sort of.

    BTW; Anyone know of a star called Wormwood?

  134. Darin

    Question. I understand that astronomers now say that WR104 is tilted away from earth, but isn’t this conclusion based on the systems eliptical plane? While the stars poles would be at 90 degrees from the plane at the formation of the system, if WR104’s companion was captured, it is unlikely that it would have been orbiting on the ecliptic plane. As the companion drew closer in its orbit, any variation off the ecliptic could pull WR104’s rotation away from the plane. Just a thought, but I find it hard to believe that such an assumtion from astronomers could be assured of without knowing the companions origins.

  135. Darin

    I guess what I’m asking is “Can the position of the poles (the rotation of the star) be offline from the ecliptic plane?

  136. Geoff

    Hey, Bad Astronomer. Why don’t you respond to Josh (post #132) and his hypothesis? Although I don’t have the time (or skill) to do the math, it sounds like he has a point. Your feedback would be very interesting.

  137. matt

    what are the chances ay? You reckon a grb wiped out the dinos then?

  138. What about us lining up with the center of the universe and facing the dark rift? We will be a lot more exposed. Also 12 degrees is right. It coincides with what I read in ancient texts. Also gamma rays when they hit us directly destroy even the genes in your cells. No Genes – no more me instantly. I would call that the rapture…so many coincidences from the Mayan culture to ancient Chinese and Indian and Hebrew writings.

  139. mike

    I have always loved astronomy. I am a theist, and therefore have many questions that are concerned about harmonizing what we see in the phenomenal universe, and what was prophesied in the Bible. I would love to hear some comments that evidence serious reflection about an astronomists interpretation of such passages as this from the book of Revelation. Particularly I wonder about the fourth and seventh plagues.

    The Seven Bowls of God’s Wrath
    1Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, “Go, pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath on the earth.” 2The first angel went and poured out his bowl on the land, and ugly and painful sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and worshiped his image.

    3The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it turned into blood like that of a dead man, and every living thing in the sea died.

    4The third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood. 5Then I heard the angel in charge of the waters say:
    “You are just in these judgments,
    you who are and who were, the Holy One,
    because you have so judged;
    6for they have shed the blood of your saints and prophets,
    and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve.”

    7And I heard the altar respond:
    “Yes, Lord God Almighty,
    true and just are your judgments.”

    8The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was given power to scorch people with fire. 9They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him.

    10The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom was plunged into darkness. Men gnawed their tongues in agony 11and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done.

    12The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East. 13Then I saw three evil[a] spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet. 14They are spirits of demons performing miraculous signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty.

    15″Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed.”

    16Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.

    17The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and out of the temple came a loud voice from the throne, saying, “It is done!” 18Then there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake. No earthquake like it has ever occurred since man has been on earth, so tremendous was the quake. 19The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed. God remembered Babylon the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath. 20Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found. 21From the sky huge hailstones of about a hundred pounds each fell upon men. And they cursed God on account of the plague of hail, because the plague was so terrible

  140. It will go GRB in 2012! Because of alignment! omg!

  141. al

    In 2010 we have seen yellow stone’s old faithful having volcanic type activity—yellow stone has a mega eruption possiblity it is a 30mile volcanic area and if you read the research it could soon cause a world quake– effecting the faults and we could have fiction becoming reality(2012)

  142. CometHunter

    I’m not gonna lose any sleep over it because there’s a really, really good chance I’ll be dead by then anyway. I’ll let the future generations cope with it.
    Personal note to ‘Jeffersonian’: you forgot “buy stock in Coppertone”.
    Personal note to ‘Mr.Ed’: do you mean to say you don;t mind being green?
    Personal note to ‘Chris’: Yes!

  143. Legato

    It’s our own Sun we should be worried about. There are solar storms on the sun alot like the earth.. When hurricane Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf Coast as record breaking storms. The sun also had solar storms that rivalled other recordings leading up to 11,000 years ago (ice age) Atronomers and NASA have come to the conclusion that in the year 2012 the storms on the sun will break records ever concieved in the last 9 cycles of our Earth.. Think on that one boys!!!!!

  144. Drew

    Thanks, now I can sleep better at night!!!!!!! KK KK

  145. james

    black hole? grb? not likey… Its our own sun we should be worried about… with the drawing of a new ice age coming at the end of 2012… it more then likey that man kind will die out. the first will be like fire wiping everthing off the face of the earth. second then will be like the ice age the cooling down piont. and third will be all life will come to grow again.

    iam not saying grb will not be the cause but its more likely that our sun will be the reason that mankind dies out.

    the facts are mankind has been here before,, no matter where you live or what law you live under. “The Q?” Is will we get off the earth before the end off this time cycles? more then likely no.

    But if we had gotting off the earth.. we would have seen the rest of our test and gotting the grd of “A+” from our test. by doing what ever human kind has done before us…… Basic,Instructions,Before,Leaving,Earth——b.i.b.l.e. if you dont believe by now i know, what iam talking about then here one for you>> what does h.o.l.y. Mean then???? i told you 20 years ago of the word bible. now iam tell you what does h.o.l.y meaning?

    i will come back an check too see what you have said.

  146. The good news is that the GRB from WR104 has been found to NOT be aimed directly toward our solar system. This good news came from the Hawaiin radar telescope in March of 2009 – so forgettabout it. And our sun is a cause for major concern, as it’s impact from activity on it’s surface is merely hours away on any given day. But as good ol’ Stephen Hawking likes to point out, mankind is in much more danger from itself than from any cosmic anamolies. We’ll much more likely to blow ourselves up than to be consumed by something from “out there”. Sleep tight. And tomorrow party like it’s 1999.

  147. “I shall return in the blink of an eye.”

  148. prashant

    its just that we dont know when WR104 will explode and with all these uncertainties there is no reason to worry and all reason to live to the fullest

  149. MarinaLeigh

    I myself am a lay person, just doing research for a fictional novel that is being published. I have read all the posts here about this. While I find astronomy fascinating, astronomy is a science, and as any layperson along with scientists knows, science is never exact. It is full of theory, along with mathematical equations. Why do others throw religion into the works? Religion does nothing but muck things up, since everyone’s interpretations are different. A gamma ray burst has nothing to do with Christ’s return, or Muhammad’s return, or any other religious figure’s return. It is a star, that has exploded with the capability of destroying another planet and/or any lifeforms on that planet. I have to agree with a comment from 2009, I don’t remember who said it, but it is likely we will destroy ourselves from our own weapons of mass destruction, which is US. We have so many diverse prejudices from religion, color of skin, and sexual preferences that we can’t stop and take a look at ourselves, and see the stupidity of thought processes. People are people, no matter how “different” they are on the outside. They still have emotions, just as much as those that hate them. As much hatred as others throw out, the haters are hated. We need to stop and worry about our own thoughts and prejudices before we worry about a gamma ray burst, because it’s not that which will wipe us out. It’s ourselves.

  150. On September 13th, 2009 at 11:24 am, kwt said:

    “I have not read all comments, but I have a question. How would the gamma stream affect the sun? In 2012, the sun will be in line with the galactic center and wr104. It’s obviously too close to feel safe and the blast could arrive at any time or never. If the sun takes the bullet or the “arrow”, then would that affect the sun’s intensity, solar wind, or magnetic field and flares? This could mean the difference between a relatively quick end, or a slow, agonizing demise taking years. On the bright side, it might buy us a little time to either destroy each other or try to overcome. Disregard the human nature aspect. :-) I’m just curious about the effects on the sun.”

    It may be coincidental but about two hours after GRB 990510 (a biggie) did it’s thing the solar wind began decreasing in density over a day-and-a-half period and it’s lowest density dropped to less than 2 percent of normal. (“990510″ equates to 1999 May 10.)

    At one point in the event, the sunward side of earth’s magnetosphere bow shock” expanded five times its normal distance from earth.

    Here’s a link to a page which shows the ACE/WIND solar wind plots for May 9-12 1999.


    Warning! This plot is an attachment to a pro-Velikovsky article.

  151. thomas McMahon

    Earth has been existing in quite a quiet mode for thousands of years, cosmic or earth made devestation is inevitable based on historical geological idications. Its rather interesting that mankind dismisses so easily the possiblities of what can really transpire. From super volcanos such as yellowstone or Gamma ray burst eventually it does come to be. Its just reality. mankind has been very fortunate, Toba 75,000 years ago came very close to bringing the extinction of man creating the bottleneck where we all share 99.9 percent of the same genenic code.

    Thomas McMahon

  152. the_49th_gate

    I’ve come upon this page after having read recent news reports about a GRB. “The Crab Nebula has shocked astronomers by emitting an unprecedented blast of gamma rays, the highest-energy light in the Universe. The cause of the 12 April gamma-ray flare, described at the Third Fermi Symposium in Rome, is a total mystery.” As a layman I find it all fascinating!

    It is an interesting thread to read here, with many illuminating comments; ranging between expert, comic, political, panic stricken and religious superstition. Focusing back on WR-104, some obviously grapple to understand the effect that it’s distance from Earth has on the relative timing of events, now here being 8000 years ago over there and now there being 8000 years in our future. So when we say ‘will it’ we also mean ‘has it’; future tense here can be past tense there, and the reverse! But it does mean that we can eliminate the theories that shining green lasers in that direction has annoyed some aliens, as at 8000ly it would be 16000 years later that we would get a response, even if it was an immediate response!

    What are the odds of a GRB zapping us? As far as I can see, the factors affecting the estimate are, 1 will it explode, 2 when might it explode, 3 would it emit a GRB, 4 would the direction of a GRB be towards us, 5 what speed would a GRB travel at, 6 would a GRB travel far enough to reach us, 7 what spread would a GRB have, 8 what rate of decay would a GRB experience, 9 what passing duration would a GRB have, 10 what direction would a GRB arrive from, 11 what effect would a possible GRB hit have on our solar system, 12 what shade might shield our Earth, 13 what percentage of the Earth’s surface would be exposed, 14 what could we do to ameliorate a GRB’s effect on the Earth? All based on our current understandings, which are more or less certain to be flawed. Ok, so what are the odds that we can predict the odds with any degree of certainty?
    Our experts, above, have done a lot to provide estimates to try to answer many of these questions. Reading through, I did not notice anyone answer Craig’s earlier point asking if the alignment of the WR-104’s own spin is necessarily on the plain of the binary system spin. If I understand it correctly the observations of alignment that we have are of the binary pair’s movement about each other? This would impinge on the chance of the star itself being pointed at us?
    If a GRB approached Earth from an angle directly over the centre of the Pacific Ocean and it lasted for only a short duration, it would fall almost totally on the surface of the seas, not on land? In any case, a short duration GRB would only fall on a hemisphere, so would the effect be such that the ‘shaded dark side’ would escape damage and would the Earth’s echo system be intact enough for recovery? Assuming that it could just as likely be some time, as much as it could be tomorrow, before a possible GRB arrives, might our civilisation have reached a point where we could avoid or shield a GRB?

    I wonder, has this discussion all been a bit Newtonian? What about the possibilities and impacts revolving about scientific theories that there are wormholes in space, many other dimensions, parallel universes, dark matter etc. It may not be many years before mankind’s abilities are vastly superior to those that we have now. Assuming we don’t screw up . . . .

  153. benoy

    My be it has already exploded about 7999 yars and 364 days ago!!!!

  154. EquilibriumYu

    I’ve also heard that no matter when the GRB occurs there’s no need to worry because it will happen so fast we won’t be able to know where it is and we will be demolished.

  155. EquilibriumYu

    I’ve also heard that no matter when the GRB occurs there’s no need to worry because it will happen so fast we won’t be able to know where it is and we will be demolished.

  156. Dr Science

    It’s much *much* more likely that a large asteroid or comet will hit the Earth and cause a partial or mass extinction. It’s also much *much* more likely that Yellowstone or one of the other supervolcanoes on Earth will erupt and cause a partial or mass extinction.

    In fact, it’s a certainty that both of the things above will happen in the next several million years. It is many orders of magnitude less likely that Earth will be on the receiving end of a GRB during the remaining time it has to supportlife as we know it (approximately a billion years or so).

    The bottom line is, asteroids, comets and volcanoes are much more of an immediate existential threat than a GRB, and they are something we can do something about if we focus on creating technologies to protect ourselves. GRBs are difficult to protect against, but also extremely unlikely to occur…ever.

  157. Steven

    I don’t think WR104 is spinning fast enough to generate a concentrated gamma ray burst. The Milky Way has alot of heavy elements so that slows down the rotational speed of stars in general. The galaxies that have alot of concentrated Gamma ray bursts are usually from galaxies that lack heavy elements. Even if WR 104 explodes it will most likely not be in a concentrated burst, it would spread out more and dissipate the radiation. So if this hit the earth it wouldn’t do much damage other than take out some satellite equipment or triggle a small ice age on the planet, but our ozone layer would remain intact. Even if WR104 explodes as a concentrated burst, which is very unlikely, it won’t do too much damage if it is 8000 lightyears away because radiation does dissipate in space over long distances, and all this probably won’t happen until long after you are dead.

  158. Tritium


    Steven, the current rotational speed of WR-104, prior to gravitational collapse (Supernova event) is NOT the same as the rotational speed of the final core after collapse. The collapsing star has to conserve angular momentum. As the radius contracts, the spin increases. Going from the initial Super Giant radius down to the super small radius of a neutron star, the rotation speed increases by many orders of magnitude…and super powerful magnetic fields can result. That is why it is possible a W-R star with “relatively” slow rotation (prior to collapse) can still result in an object with incredibly high rotational speeds. So yes, it still is possible that WR-104 might generate a GRB event upon going Supernova.

  159. Chris

    Scary stuff. I often think about the extinction of all life on Earth. It’s an incredibly depressing thought. All our scientific achievements gone. Everything that ever existed on this planet, completely pointless. And, in a situation like this, there’s nothing we can (currently) do about it. It makes me feel so helpless. It would be amazing if there was another civilization out there, watching out for us, and protecting us. But that’s unlikely. Anyway, I’ll stop there.

  160. cygnusx3

    And like Jim Kiley said, by the time you see it, it will be too late. Not much to do on that one.

  161. ohan karagozian

    Well, it is possible that the strength of the GRB may be significantly diminished as it nears our solar system because of the many objects in direct line between WR104 and our solar system. Remember that the GRB has to travel approximately 8,000 light years.

    What I am pretty certain is the fact that anything that is in the path of a “energy flow” it will affect that “energy flow” and will reduce the “energy flows” power and speed and the distance it would travel if left unhindered. There is a lot of “stuff” between Earth and WR104.

    I’m not saying we will not be affected, but that the effect may be less catastrophic because of the possibility of other interstellar objects could absorb the energy of the GRB and reduce it’s lethal effects to a point where those effects are marginal or negligible.

  162. bubba williams

    please answer me with mathematics,and answer me simple.what if jupiter was in the orbit,where venus is,planet number 2.what if saturn was in mars orbit,planet 4.earth is still in orbit 3.today jupiter discharges 1 billion watts to earths electromagnetic field.daily jupiter discharges 1 trillion watts to 1 of its moons.what would this do to earth,jupiter n in venus orbit.jupiter is 300 times bigger than earth,for earth to pass in shadow of jupiter,how long would we b out of sunlight.how cold would earth get.jupiter and saturn both have rings of rocks.would earth gravity pull many rocks from jupiter saturn to bombard earth.with jupiter saturn closer to sun,i think both would have a higher electrical discharge.i think,all critters on earth would die from high electricity,maybe even iron pulled from our blood by gravity.everyone please dig in make this a rich feast of a discussion,if you know what your talking about,so everyone,dont have to read worthless chat,no offense.would earth b pulled from orbit,mars at 140 million miles from sun,jupiter is 480 million,mars is tugged how much.jupiter in venus orbit,would b 66 million miles from sun,earth 93 million,saturn in mars orbit,would b 140 million.im thinking no life even bacteria,would live.would atoms on earth b changed plus or minus electrons protons etc.i want bloogers that can do the math,chemistry,seriously answer this,please call many physicists or whoever ask this,peace love.did i miss anything,what else would b affected.


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