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Universe Facts: A Survivor’s Guide to Blackholes, Asteroids and Other Deadly Hazards

Article by Hubble Photo Prints

Space can be a dangerous place, and I’m not talking about what’s out there. Daleks, xenomorphs and Klingons are bad enough, but beyond Earth even the environment is out to get us! Best just to stay at home and watch TV. Here are the eight deadliest hazards in outer space!

1. Asteroid impacts: Chunks of rock and metal, some the size of bullets, some the size of Nebraska, fly around the sun at silly speeds. Sometimes they bump into things, and that’s not good. If you want to know how bad it can be just ask a dinosaur.

2. The vacuum of space: The Universe is more than 99.9999999999999% empty. Most of the places in the Universe are airless voids. A human being placed randomly anywhere in space will find himself in a vacuum and if he hadn’t packed a spacesuit would be unconscious inside ten seconds and dead in 90 seconds. What if he tried to be clever and held his breath? That’s the worst possible idea! The pressure of the air trapped in the lungs would make them burst. Yuk!

3. Poisonous atmospheres: In general, planets come in two types, the ones with no atmosphere which is bad, and ones with toxic atmospheres. Carbon dioxide, sulphuric acid droplets, methane and ammonia are all found in planets’ atmospheres and I’m not just talking about over New Jersey.

4. Extreme temperatures: Most of the Universe is very, very cold, about -270 degrees Celsius. So cold in fact that brass monkeys are unlikely to start a space program. However on some planets, heat from their star is trapped in thick and soupy atmospheres. Venus for example is a cosy 460 degrees everywhere. A human exposed to this temperature would be reduced to a charcoal briquette in less than a minute. Hmm, toasty!

5. Deadly radiation: Radiation is everywhere in outer space. Exposure to radiation makes humans develop bizarre superpowers! Hooray! Oops, pardon me, that’s comic radiation, cosmic radiation is the real stuff, and if you are exposed to it, the only superpowers you’re going to get are unpleasant and lethal. Regions in exotic places like the cores of galaxies or globular clusters are bathed in enough gamma rays and other nasty things to make a holiday home in Chernobyl look like the easy way out.6. Gamma ray bursts: When really, really big stars get to the ends of their lives they explode in gigantic explosions called hyper- novae. A hyper-nova is to a nuclear bomb what a nuclear bomb is to a bursting balloon. That’s bad enough but a lot of the energy is released in twin jets of gamma rays squirting from the conflagration. Astronomers seeing these from a safe distance call them gamma ray bursts. Astronomers seeing them from an unsafe distance would just say “Aaargh!”and vaporize.

7. Gravity: It’s small comfort to anyone who is reading this in a falling lift, but gravity is actually the weakest force in the universe. It is concentrated in planets and stars, and can be lethal here on Earth but it gets really dangerous on the surface of neutron stars. Imagine landing your spaceship on the billiard ball-smooth surface of one of these tiny and shrunken dead stars and stepping outside. Faster than you can say ‘Lickety spit!’ the star’s gravity, about 100 billion times stronger than Earth’s will squash you to a speck smaller than this full-stop.

8. Black holes: The ultimate in cosmic vacuum cleaners, these dead stars come in sizes from big to super-massive. Hmm, perhaps they’re over-compensating for something? People worry about being sucked into a black hole, but I think that’s silly. No, you’d be torn to shreds by the black hole’s massive gravity long before then!

Best stay at home and enjoy your cereal!

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