On neutrinos and supernova

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This will be the hardest post for me to write to date. Mostly because I’m nearly in a complete thanksgiving coma. But I still want to keep my vow to blog everyday this month. So here it goes. How close to a supernova would you have to be to obtain a lethal dose of neutrino radiation?

It’s sort of a funny question. Neutrinos, for the “science is stupid” crowd, are tiny TINY subatomic particles. So tiny in fact that it was a major scientific breakthrough to empiracly show that hey had any mass at all. They’re so tiny that they it can be argued that they have an undeterminable volume because they’re more like a wave of energy than a particle at this point. Here’s the other thing about neutrinos. They’re an electrically neutral particle. They don’t have a charge so they don’t really interact with things like electrons or protons or really any part of an atom. The end result is that neutrinos don’t really interact with matter. I can prove it. Look at your hand. Trillions upon trillions of neutrinos are passing through your hand right now. They’re created in the fusion fires in the sun and they stream through the universe without interacting with any of it. Despite Being bombarded with trillions and trillions of the particles you may live your entire life without being hit by one of them. To detect these particles scientist build huge tanks of heavy water deep in the earth with the most sensitive detectors in the history of mankind and watch here for months to detect just a handful of the radiation spikes that would signify a collision. The life of a neutrino is a lonely one. So if neutrinos never interact with anything how could you ever die of neutrino radiation poisoning? Well, you would need a lot of them even by astronomical standards you would need one of the most destructive events in the universe. The supernova. A supernova happens when giant star in one final glorious display of chaos and destruction blows up at the end of its life. Only the biggest stars will do this. Our own sun isn’t big enough by a long shot. The stellar explosion is so massive that if you took mankind’s most feared weapon the H-bomb and blew it up right next to your eyeball a supernova as far away as the sun would STILL be 9x brighter. So how close to one of these things would you have to get to die of neutrino poisoning? Well you’d have to be as close as Mars is to the sun. However, since that’s still with the star’s outer layers even before the explosion it’s probably a mute point.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone


Edit: 11/29/2013 11:00

Thanks to http://what-if.xkcd.com/73/ for doing the math.


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