We've known for a while that large astronomical events can spell bad news for life: supernovae unleash unimaginable levels radiation, asteroids can kick up climate-killing clouds, and black holes can suck things out of existence altogether. Now it seems that simply wandering too close to big star can evaporate a planet before it even forms.
University of Arizona astronomers have surveyed a thousand stars in the Rosette Nebula - that might sound like a song lyric, but we assure you it's real scientific study. They found that those that most of those which ventured too close to O Stars were barren, stripped of even the potential of forming planets.
"O Stars" are the brightest and hottest of the main sequence stars. Gigantic surface temperatures of 30,000 Kelvin upward puts them at the blue end of the spectrum. They can be a hundred times the size and over a thousand times brighter than the friendly little G Star we call "The Sun".
The recent work shows that the massive solar winds and radiation output from these hyper-bright lights in the night can strip away the dust disk that surrounds young stars, the raw material that could otherwise go into planet formation. To get some idea of the scale of the radiation involved, the danger zone extends 1.6 light years from the O star. That's six trillion miles, otherwise known as "stay the hell away from those things".
The scientists say that an already-extant planet could possibly survive a dalliance with these Death Stars, but I think they misunderstand our concerns. We aren't actually concerned about the dainty little zettaton ball of rock; anything capable of beating up on a baby planet will certainly vaporize anything carelessly making a living on the surface. So our space searches for interesting planets can safely ignore anything within those danger zones.
Don't worry though, there aren't any O Stars within sixteen light years of Earth. As you can tell by the fact that you're actually reading this.
Posted by Luke McKinney.