What Happens If A Star Explodes Near The Earth?

People have witnessed supernovae for millennia, but what threat do they pose to life on Earth? This video is sponsored by Brilliant. You can get started for free, or the first 200 people to sign up via get 20% off a yearly subscription.

A massive thanks to Prof. Hans-Thomas Janka for helping us with the physics of supernovae and GRBs. A massive thanks to Prof. Brian Thomas for all of his help with the terrestrial effects of supernovae and GRBs. This video would not have been possible without them. Also thanks to Dr. Luke Barnes for his initial help with the literature search.

Hydrogen bomb vs Supernova fact was taken from this great article by xkcd/Randall Munroe – (based on the calculation by Andrew Karam, 2002)

Cosmic bubble footage from

Neutrino driven SN explosion simulations from


Melott, A. et al. (2019). Hypothesis: Muon radiation dose and marine megafaunal extinction at the End-Pliocene supernova. Astrobiology, 19(6), 825-830. –

Thomas, B. C. et al. (2016). Terrestrial effects of nearby supernovae in the early Pleistocene. The Astrophysical Journal Letters, 826(1), L3 –

Melott, A. L., & Thomas, B. C. (2019). From cosmic explosions to terrestrial fires?. The Journal of Geology, 127(4), 475-481. –

Fields, B. et al. (2019). Near-Earth supernova explosions: Evidence, implications, and opportunities. arXiv preprint arXiv:1903.04589. –

Thomas, B. C., Atri, D., & Melott, A. L. (2021). Gamma-ray bursts: not so much deadlier than we thought. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 500(2), 1970-1973. –

Melott, A. et al. (2004). Did a gamma-ray burst initiate the late Ordovician mass extinction?. International Journal of Astrobiology, 3(1), 55-61. –

Firestone, R. B. (2014). Observation of 23 supernovae that exploded less than 300 pc from Earth during the past 300 kyr. The Astrophysical Journal, 789(1), 29. –

Janka, H. T. (2017). Neutrino emission from supernovae. arXiv preprint arXiv:1702.08713. –

Janka, H. T., & Hillebrandt, W. (1989). Neutrino emission from type II supernovae-an analysis of the spectra. Astronomy and astrophysics, 224, 49-56. –

Janka, H. T. (2017). Neutrino-driven explosions. arXiv preprint arXiv:1702.08825. –

Karam, P. A. (2002). Gamma and neutrino radiation dose from gamma ray bursts and nearby supernovae. Health physics, 82(4), 491-499. –

Melott, A. L., Thomas, et al.. (2017). A supernova at 50 pc: effects on the Earth’s atmosphere and biota. The Astrophysical Journal, 840(2), 105. –

Ludwig, P., et al. (2016). Time-resolved 2-million-year-old supernova activity discovered in Earth’s microfossil record. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(33), 9232-9237. –

Gritschneder, et al. (2011). The supernova triggered formation and enrichment of our solar system. The Astrophysical Journal, 745(1), 22. –

Motizuki, Y., Takahashi, et al. (2009). An Antarctic ice core recording both supernovae and solar cycles. arXiv preprint arXiv:0902.3446. –

Zucker, C. et al. (2022). Star formation near the Sun is driven by expansion of the Local Bubble. Nature, 601(7893), 334-337. –

Hirata, K. et al.(1987). Observation of a neutrino burst from the supernova SN1987A. Physical Review Letters, 58(14), 1490. –

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Written by Petr Lebedev & Derek Muller
Edited by Fabio Albertelli
Animation by Fabio Albertelli, Jakub Misiek, Alex Drakoulis, Ivy Tello, Mike Radjabov, and Charlie Davies
Filmed by Derek Muller
Additional Research by Kovi Rose & Katie Barnshaw
Video/photos supplied by NASA, ESA, Pond5, and Getty Images
Music from Epidemic Sound & Jonny Hyman
Produced by Derek Muller, Petr Lebedev, and Emily Zhang

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