Eta Carinae: So after escaping Y2K unscathed, and with the SM2K (Solar Max 2000) staring us in the face, what else might be sneaking up behind us with sharp teeth and fanny on its menu? The answer (at least one of the answers) is Eta Carinae. A mere 8,000 light years away, Eta Carinae is about 150 times as massive as our sun and, even in its relatively quiet current phase, it is more than a million times as bright as the sun: it is one of the brightest things in the Southern Hemisphere sky. It bubbles and throbs and has solar system size expanding gas and debris clouds bulging from what appear to be its poles of rotation. These immensely bright glowing structures, expanding at a million miles per hour, are probably remnants of an eruptive event that made Eta Carinae the second brightest thing in our sky (only the sun was brighter) in the early 1840s. Further out are even bigger debris and gas structures from earlier explosions. The complex periodicity and pulsations of the star lead star mavens to think there are actually either two or three stars rapidly orbiting each other at the core of the explosions. Think of something much bigger than our sun going around something even bigger every 85 or so days at the same distance Mercury goes around our sun.

But at 8000 light years away, is Eta Carinae dangerous to us? The astrophysicists donât really know, because there is nothing else that big and active in our neighborhood, but they are worried. Extremely strong radio emissions that have reached us starting a few years ago correspond to what the theorists predict would happen when a super-massive star is preparing to go into super-nova. Super-novae are not common, but a few have been observed in this era of modern measuring devices, and they typically have emitted massive pulses of broad band radiation -- light, x-rays, gamma and radio waves. Some calculations done by the folks who know how to do them lead them to believe that such pulses from Eta Carinae could fry earthbound and space electronics. NASA knows about this and has built shields into some space craft to protect them, and extra shielding is being incorporated into the international space station. But do the assorted Ma Bells out there know or care? Some do and some apparently don't. The good news (for us in the Northern Hemisphere) is that the blast will hit the southern side of the Earth. The bad news is that nobody has a clue about how big the pulses might be, what they will do to the ionosphere or the ozone layer, how distributed communications networks (telephones and Internet, for example) might be effected, or when it all might happen. In fact, it may already have happened -- Eta Carinae is 8,000 light years away, and the pulses may already be almost here. In the nature of things, there can be no early warning except for the theories the astrophysicists are now studying -- the illumination that indicates when Eta Carinae has gone super-nova will arrive as part of the potentially damaging first pulse.