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Is The Most Dangerous Place In The Universe? | Unveiled

VOICE OVER: Peter DeGiglio WRITTEN BY: Caitlin Johnson
Want to visit the most dangerous place in the universe? Join us... and set sail!

just a few miles above our heads, there's an endless expanse crammed full with deadly things! But what is the MOST dangerous place out there? Out of all the black holes, supernovae and hostile, alien planets... which one place is the absolute worst for humankind?

It's somewhere the like of which you have NEVER seen before!
Transcript

What is the Most Dangerous Place in the Universe?


The universe is many things. Vast, mysterious… and deadly! An endless expanse full of incomparable hazards, from hostile alien worlds to massive, exploding stars, to the desolate vacuum of outer space itself… to live is to constantly be in danger of dying. But which regions and things should we really avoid at all costs?

This is Unveiled, and today we’re answering the extraordinary question; what’s the most dangerous place in the universe?

We’ll start with a technicality. Because, statistically speaking, the deadliest place in the universe is planet Earth. In human history, only three people have ever died while in space - the three cosmonauts on the Soyuz-11 mission in 1971. All other deaths (including all other spaceflight fatalities) have happened either on Earth or within Earth’s atmosphere. This means that in the early twenty-first century, we can still say that there’s an almost 100% chance that any one person will die here, on this planet.

There’s no doubting, then, that there are various, extremely dangerous environments already all around us. As well as the constant threat of natural disasters, or even cosmological events (like an asteroid strike) to keep us on our toes. But space still amounts to an environment far more lethal than any place on Earth can be. Just a few miles above our heads is the unforgiving vacuum of space. An apparent nothingness, but also arguably the biggest tool that space has to kill us with. As soon as we humans are exposed to the vacuum, all the air gets sucked from our lungs and suffocation quickly takes hold. The gasses in our bodies might expand, as well, internal organs could swell… and all of the moisture on or in us – including tears and sweat – would boil away.

But, really, we’re still dealing in technicalities. Yes, you are overwhelmingly most likely to die on Earth. And, yes, the entirety of space itself can (and will) swiftly kill you when given the chance. But let’s now think about specific locations. What, for example, could be labelled the most dangerous place in the solar system?

Mars is never far from the headlines here on Earth. But, if we were to step out onto Martian soil and breathe Martian air today, we would die. Just like everywhere else in this star system that doesn’t (to the best of our knowledge) host life, Mars, with its plummeting cold and thin atmosphere, is definitely dangerous. But it’s no match for Venus, which consistently ranks as the most hostile planet out there. At one time, Venus was thought to have potential as a second home for humanity, with the USSR in particular sending multiple probes to study it, in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s. But all that those probes really revealed was that we should probably look elsewhere.

For good reason, Venus has been widely dubbed Earth’s evil twin. It has an average surface temperature of 470 degrees Celsius – that’s 50 degrees hotter than Mercury, and Mercury is 31 million miles closer to the sun! Venus also has an atmospheric pressure 90 times greater than on Earth, meaning probes sent there that aren’t immediately burnt up by the planet… are crushed as soon as they get low enough to feel the full Venusian force. Long story short, if you were teleported onto Venus and ruthlessly exposed to the conditions there, you’d die before your first minute was up.

But Venus is just one planet in one star system. And, as inhospitable as it is, there are worse places to be. Only a small fraction of the billions of planets that exist inside just the Milky Way are thought to be Earth-like. So, there are countless more worlds and locations that would kill you quicker than even Venus could.

The coldest exoplanet we’ve yet found is called OGLE-2005-BLG-390Lb, but for simplicity’s sake it’s often nicknamed Hoth after the icy wasteland in “The Empire Strikes Back”. It has a surface temperature of minus-220 degrees Celsius… far colder than the coldest natural conditions ever recorded on the surface of Earth - minus-89 degrees in Antarctica in 1983. Considering that the all-encompassing vacuum of space is minus-270 degrees, though… even Hoth isn’t that cold, in the grand scheme of things.

Hot planets are far more intense. And one of the hottest found so far is KELT-9b, where we have an incredible, blistering surface temperature of more than 4,300 degrees. It’s variably described as an ultra-hot Jupiter, but even that doesn’t truly do this place justice. The heat in this part of the universe is almost unfathomable. If you ever wanted to pay it a visit, it’s only 670 lightyears away from Earth - a paltry distance in a universe that’s 93 billion lightyears across. But, be warned, KELT-9b’s host star is an even more eye-watering prospect… with surface temperatures close to 10,000 degrees Celsius – almost double that of our sun.

But, under different circumstances, KELT-9b might’ve been more dangerous still. Say, for example, it’s scorching star went supernova. Thankfully, this isn’t a fate that could befall our sun (because it’s not massive enough). But there are trillions of stars in the universe, and many of them will one day explode. Supernovae are cosmic events so bright and hot that they’re actually more luminous than whole galaxies can be at their peak. From a safe distance they might even be described as beautiful or magical. But there’d be zero beauty or magic if you ever found yourself caught too close to one. Instead, you’d without question be obliterated.

It’s difficult to rank how dangerous any one supernova could be, but from a human perspective they’re all end-of-life deadly. Huge surges of energy spreading out and out. And, in some ways, they might even be thought of as more dangerous than a black hole - that other, often-cited, non-supernova fate that could be dealt to a big enough star at the end of its life. This is because, with all of the mass and energy plunging inwards rather than exploding outwards, you’d in theory have to be significantly closer to a black hole to be in immediate danger.

Despite being strange and frightening, black holes (by some measures) aren’t really any more or less dangerous than the star that existed before them. Just as you’d die if you fell into the star, the same thing happens if you fall into the black hole. The dying process - spaghettification - is fairly different, though… as all of your individual atoms get stretched out into one, long, endless string. There’s no doubt that black holes are dangerous, then. And it figures that the biggest, supermassive black holes could lay claim to being the most dangerous places in the universe. But, up to a point, up to the event horizon, they’re not necessarily the most unpredictable. And it could be said that supernova explosions are more unpredictable. Even without the black hole-style total disintegration of time, space and physics beyond the event horizon!

But let’s not forget that there is a third (and, in the context of this video, final) fate that could await a sufficiently massive star at the end of its life: it could become a neutron star, instead. Neutron stars are collapsed stellar cores, in their most basic form, and aren’t automatically any more dangerous than anything else. But… if one transforms into what’s known as a quark star, then we’ve a whole new situation on our hands. And, potentially, not a good one.

A quark star is a currently hypothetical cosmic structure, wherein a neutron star is exposed to such immense pressure that it crushes down and changes at the subatomic level. Quarks, in themselves, are the smallest particles that exist; combining to form subatomic particles like protons and neutrons, which in turn combine to make atoms. If then, a star is hot and dense enough to become a quark star as it dies, it’s theorised that it could crush individual atoms and particles into a mass of quarks - quark matter. From there, extreme conditions inside the seemingly dead star convert some of this into what’s then referred to as strange matter… and it’s this that could make the interior of a quark star far more dangerous than even the interior of a black hole.

Nothing escapes a black hole. Which, as ominous as it sounds, means that all of the reality-bending weirdness is kept firmly within them. But it’s predicted that the strange matter of a quark star could escape its home. And, if it did so, it could theoretically infect any normal, atomic matter it comes into contact with. Theories abound, but one worst-case scenario says that strange matter could serve to convert normal matter into strange matter. And so, like a contagion spreading through the universe, the produce of a quark star could begin to transform all around it at subatomic root. And then it would move further afield. And then further still. From one star, or planet or asteroid to another… until it feasibly blankets everything. Everything in the universe, including every other dangerous place we’ve mentioned, including Earth. All of it wiped out and replaced by the strangeness inside of quark stars.

Thankfully, we’re yet to actually observe a quark star in amongst the rest of the cosmos. But if we ever do, it could become the single greatest threat in the sky above. If the worst-case scenario is to come true, it would be a threat to all things and all of reality. A lurking, whole-universe-destroyer in our midst. And if that’s not dangerous, then nothing is!
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