03ZombieSupernovaToday, class, in honor of the upcoming new Star Wars movie, Mr. Science will spend some time with us in a galaxy far, far away. According to a recent article in Trump’s favorite newspaper, The Washington Post, there is some pretty weird stuff happening in outer space. Put on your Shakespeare hat and ponder what Hamlet said: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Turns out the philosophy of astrophysicists hasn’t been dreaming wildly enough about supernovas. Supernovas are not to be confused with Chevy Novas. I personally drove to Key West in a Chevy Nova whose spare tire floated and sloshed in the wheel compartment all the way, but I digress.

Supernovas are supposed to be rudely explosive but then politely follow the laws of physics after blowing up. The previously agreed upon etiquette for supernovas held that the star blows up with a huge explosion spewing out matter and energy for several months, which can be seen from billions of light years away.

When the light show is over, a polite supernova shrinks down into either a black hole or a neutron star with gravity so great that even light can’t escape it. Stealing and mangling a quote from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, “a collapsed supernova struts and frets its hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Collapsed supernovas are supposed act like Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K. and Roy Moore by essentially disappearing after the big flash, never to be seen again. At least that was the rule until the rebel supernova named iPTF14hls came to the attention of the scientists at the Intermediate Palomar Transient Factory. This supernova, whose friends call it Ippy, does not behave like all the other supernovas. If all the other supernovas jumped off a roof, Ippy would take the ladder.

Ippy lives in a galaxy about 500 million miles away. According to the Post article, Ippy blew up five times in the last two years. This can’t be happening. Once a supernova blows up, that is supposed to be the end of it. And yet Ippy perseveres in lighting up the night. Ippy, rather than blowing up once and for all and then settling into a nice long retirement as a black hole, keeps blowing up against all the rules. Ippy is hyperactive, and no amount of cosmic Ritalin can control its explosions. Astrophysicists report Ippy has sent out the equivalent of 50 Jupiters of matter and the energy of “10 quintillion suns.” I have no earthly idea how many a quintillion is. It sounds like a really big number that would require sun block of at least SPF 6 zillion to avoid serious dermatological damage.

Ippy may in fact be a zombie supernova, coming back from the dead repeatedly to mess with astronomers’ brains. Because astronomers feel comfortable when they name things, Ippy has now been classified as a “pulsation pair instability supernova.” This means Mr. Science has created a name for a phenomenon that he can’t explain.
A pulsation pair instability supernova is a fake supernova that happens “when a star 100 times bigger than the sun blows off some of its outer layers.” This theory may explain Ippy’s recidivist behavior or it may not. Mr. Science does not know for sure. Supernovas are not supposed to come back from the dead, which Ippy has been doing since at least the 1950s. You can’t keep a good zombie supernova down.

So where does this leave us? What are we to make of Ippy, and how can we turn it into cash? Consider what Jiminy Cricket sang in Walt Disney’s “Pinocchio” in “When You Wish Upon a Star.” Jiminy pointed out, “When you wish upon a star/Makes no difference who you are/Anything your heart desires will come to you/ If your heart is in your dream/No request is too extreme/Like a bolt out of the blue/ Fate steps in and sees you through/ When you wish upon a star/ Your dreams come true.”

Since Ippy is a zombie supernova and keeps coming back from the dead, it likely means Ippy can grant wishes each time he blows up. What to wish for? Perhaps a hit record? A world without Kardashians or presidential tweets? The elimination of green peas from Thanksgiving dinner? Steve Bannon falling into a black hole? No more denials of Russian interference in our elections? Christmas ads before Halloween? The possibilities are endless. If we all clap our hands and make a wish, neither Ippy nor Tinkerbell will die.

Mr. Science urges all of you out there to start clapping and wishing upon a Zombie Star. Makes no difference who you are.

 

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