“They’re coming to get you Barbara.” These are the famous words uttered by a character named Johnny in the 1968 film Night of the Living Dead. In the movie, brother Johnny and his sister Barbara are driving through a cemetery when a strange man approaches. Unfortunately for the pair, Johnny’s joke becomes a reality as they discover the man is one of a big gaggle (flock? herd? swarm?) of zombies who are hungry for human brains. Now, scientists have discovered that zombies are not just the stuff of Hollywood horror films, but they also exist in real life, in the universe. They are dead, and yet… undead. They are zombie stars, and they are hungry for asteroid “brains.”
Zombie stars are stars that shine even though they are not technically “alive” anymore. When they munch on asteroids or other matter in their path, they merge with and gain energy from that matter. Scientists say they burst “back to life” and they are then so bright they can be used to study dark matter. Sometimes the zombie stars shine as brightly as “billions of suns.”
Zombie stars are also called “neutron stars” and they, just like “real” zombies, hover on a precipice that’s somewhere between life and death. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center’s Dr. Zaven Arzoumanian explains:
A neutron star is right at the threshold of matter as it can exist – if it gets any denser, it becomes a black hole. We have no way of creating neutron star interiors on Earth, so what happens to matter under such incredible pressure is a mystery – there are many theories about how it behaves. The closest we come to simulating these conditions is in particle accelerators that smash atoms together at almost the speed of light. However, these collisions are not an exact substitute – they only last a split second, and they generate temperatures that are much higher than what’s inside neutron stars.
Here’s where things get really funky: These zombie stars have the power to actually bend the “space time continuum.” This warping of space-time is what is allowed within the Theory of General Relativity created by Albert Einstein. It is the subject of countless science fiction movies, especially those which involve time travel.
Recently, one of these zombie stars was discovered to have been munching on an asteroid. What makes this discovery notable is that the asteroid was very rich in water. It seems that zombies are not only hungry for asteroid brains, they are thirsty too.
Since it’s close to Halloween and many discussions turn to all things horrifying, consider this: scientists say that our own sun may one day, unfortunately for us, turn into a zombie star, and since zombies are always hungry for brains, it will end up consuming quite a few planets in its path. Sadly, that includes our planet, Earth. If the idea that the sun will eventually turn into a zombie star terrifies you, maybe you can be consoled with knowing that eventually these neutron stars give rise to new baby stars, and that is totally untypical of known zombie behavior.
By: Rebecca Savastio