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Death Rays Moving at the Speed of Light


Those considering signing up for the asteroid mines have been chattering about how to handle the death rays crossing vast distances of space and time at the speed of light. Lead lined underwear isn’t practical or effective. Quasars aren’t stars, no matter what the radio astronomers in the late 50’s thought. Even in the 60’s they still weren’t certain, so kept calling them “sort-of-stars.”

The power of light

One thing that never seemed to come up in the pulp fiction space operas was the subject of navigation hazards. Comfy here on Earth, safe behind our shields of atmosphere and magnetic fields, nobody thinks about the particles flying past in all directions. The ones thrown off by quasars are veritable grim reaper particles of sudden annihilation.

All massless particles travel at the speed of light. Just because a photon doesn’t have mass doesn’t mean different flavors of them don’t have more energy than others. Quasar emitted photons behave like they’re psycho-killers amped out on Benzedrine.

First discovered by the early radio astronomers, they appeared “starlike” but not quite. That’s how they got the name quasi-stellar radio sources. That’s a mouthful, even for scientists, so they shortened it to the snappy sounding “quasar.” It soon became a household brand name too.

They really aren’t stars, they’re galaxies. Not the whole galaxy, just the big black hole at the center. It takes massive amounts of energy to escape the event horizon neighborhood of a black hole, and quasars start with especially massive black holes. That’s what makes the light pouring out of them so deadly. Anything in the path of a direct hit would be vaporized. If you were to get close enough.

Luckily, there aren’t any of them around here, cosmically speaking. We know now that they’re baby galaxies mostly out at the edge of our expanding universe.

Your average quasar is around 1,000 times brighter than our entire Milky Way galaxy. They are “highly active, emitting staggering amounts of radiation across the entire electromagnetic spectrum.” Their light is mostly in the X-ray shades or higher.

Supermassive black hole

The oldest quasar we know about is J0313-1806 which hangs out around 13.03 billion light-years away.

Expansion makes the math a little fuzzy but “we see it as it was just 670 million years after the Big Bang.” That’s infancy as far as the universe is concerned.

The thing that makes their light so deadly is that quasars are “powered by a supermassive black hole at its center.”

“The radiation is emitted when material in the accretion disk surrounding the black hole is superheated to millions of degrees by the intense friction generated by the particles of dust, gas and other matter in the disk colliding countless times with each other.”

After heating up in the nuclear furnace for a while, “matter in a quasar/black hole’s accretion disk heats up, it generates radio waves, X-rays, ultraviolet and visible light.

The quasar becomes so bright that it’s able to outshine entire galaxies.” If you were to swap a quasar for the sun, then haul planet earth all the way out to the frozen reaches of Pluto, “it would vaporize all of Earth’s oceans to steam in a fifth of a second.”

What do you think?

Written by Mark Megahan

Mark Megahan is a resident of Morristown, Arizona and aficionado of the finer things in life.

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