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Space Disco : Discovery Space

WR 104: Are We Looking Down the Barrel of a Gamma-Ray Burst?

6 Aug 2009, 07:19 UTC
WR 104: Are We Looking Down the Barrel of a Gamma-Ray Burst?
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WR 104 is a fascinating star. Located approximately 8000 light years from Earth in the constellation of Sagittarius, it has an O-type binary partner where the interaction of both stars produce a spiral pattern of hot dust, expanding as a beautiful spiral.

WR 104 is what is known as a Wolf-Rayet star, the final phase of a massive star's life. Wolf-Rayets have short lifespans, suicidally ejecting plasma into space, producing strong stellar winds. These facts, plus some of the factors outlined in this post, make Wolf-Rayets my favorite stellar objects.

Wolf-Rayets are fiery, hot, dynamic stars, but WR 104 also has a sinister side... it could explode as a gamma-ray burst. Not only that, but recent observations of the system suggest it is facing right at us. If that thing blows, and it fires a deadly beam of gamma-rays in our direction, it could do serious damage to our planet.

However, right in time for the Discovery Space Wide Angle all about stars that explode, I had a chat to Keck Observatory scientist Dr. Grant Hill who has other ideas about the damaging potential of WR 104...

A ticking bomb

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