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Space Telescope Catches Monster Flare 158

Posted by kdawson
from the big-boom dept.
gollum123 writes, "NASA's Swift satellite has seen a giant flare explode from a nearby star. Our sun also flares when twisted magnetic field lines in the solar atmosphere suddenly snap — but this was on a far larger scale, perhaps 100 million times as strong. The energy released by the explosion on II Pegasi was equivalent to about 50 quintillion atomic bombs. If the Sun were ever to produce such an outburst, it would almost certainly cause a mass extinction on Earth. II Pegasi is a binary system 135 light-years from Earth in the constellation Pegasus. Its two stars are close, only a few stellar radii apart; as a result, tidal forces cause both stars to spin quickly, rotating in lockstep once in seven days compared to the Sun's 28-day rotation period. Fast rotation is thought to be conducive to strong stellar flares."
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Space Telescope Catches Monster Flare

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  • by lecithin (745575) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @05:02PM (#16757209)
    It's Election Day, so I get into work early, before lunch even. The phone rings. Shit!

    I turn the page on the excuse sheet. "COSMIC SOLAR FLARES" stares out at me. I'd better read up on that. Two minutes later
    I'm ready to answer the phone.

    "Hello?" I say.

    The Voting machines are messed up, We can't vote!!!

    "Ah, yes. Well, there's been some cosmic solar activity this morning, it always disrupts electronics..." I say, sweet as a sugar pie.

    "Huh? But I my friends could vote in Itasca County"

    "Yes, that's entirely possible, cosmic solar activity is very unpredictable in it's effects. Why just a few years ago, we had some votes just dissappear from a guys total during the middle of a recount!"

    • by ErikTheRed (162431) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @05:23PM (#16757553) Homepage
      It's Election Day, so I get into work early, before lunch even. The phone rings. Shit!

      I turn the page on the excuse sheet. "COSMIC SOLAR FLARES" stares out at me. I'd better read up on that. Two minutes later I'm ready to answer the phone.

      "Hello?" I say.

      The Voting machines are messed up, We can't vote!!!

      "Ah, yes. Well, there's been some cosmic solar activity this morning, it always disrupts electronics..." I say, sweet as a sugar pie.

      "Huh? But I my friends could vote in Itasca County"

      "Yes, that's entirely possible, cosmic solar activity is very unpredictable in it's effects. Why just a few years ago, we had some votes just dissappear from a guys total during the middle of a recount!"
      Offtopic?

      Too bad the mods don't understand BOFH excuse calendar humor. But you did leave off the part where voters for the wrong party have their opinions corrected via an ingeneously improvised "patch" to the voting machine involving a cattle prod....
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by tunguska1908 (924356)
      The parent comment is an amusing narratve, but if we wanted to find some holes in it....

      1) The article is in regard to a large stellar flare, not a solar one. Currently the Sun is at solar minimum, and while large solar activity can occur at this time of the cycle, such activity is rare. For those that are interested, the National Solar Observatory [nso.edu] has images of the current solar activity, and a current space weather report is available from the Space Environment Center [noaa.gov]. Besides all of that, the fl
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      "cosmic solar activity is very unpredictable in it's effects"

      Yeah no kidding! It turned the perfectly usable possessive ITS into the ridiculous IT IS!

  • WMD? (Score:1, Funny)

    50 quintillion atomic bombs? The pegasiuns have nukular weapons! Quickly, draw up sanctions/ignore/invade
    • by imikem (767509)
      If they have 50 quintillion nukes, you're welcome to lead the assault. I'll wait here, a non-Anonymous Coward. Guilty as charged.
    • Re:WMD? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Grave (8234) <awalbert88 AT hotmail DOT com> on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @07:57PM (#16760507)
      Which bombs? North Korean bombs or the Russian Ivan bombs? The Ivan test was about 10,000 times more powerful than the North Korean bomb.

      I find blanket statements like "More powerful than x nuclear bombs," to be infuriatingly alarmist. Give me a raw tonnage number any day. THAT interests me much more.

      (Of course, I suppose the extra five zero's one might potentially add here aren't that significant, as it is probably still enough power either way to blow up the Earth.)
      • by CFD339 (795926)
        The thing about nukular bombs is, well, one quintillion or five -- it no longer really matters. On the hugeness scale, once you past that first quintillion you're pretty much off the charts into the "really fsking huge" end of the spectrum. It's like calling someone a complete fscking idiot. Really, once you get past fscking idiot, the "complete" part doesn't add much does it? I don't know very many partial idiots, and no partial fscking idiots. Anyway, back to really fscking huge bombs -- that one b
      • Re:WMD? (Score:5, Funny)

        by Kingrames (858416) on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @01:01AM (#16763491)
        I can just picture you in a D&D game.

        DM: "you have been killed by the explosion of one billion nuclear bombs."

        You: "Russian or Korean?"
  • by darkonc (47285) <`moc.neergcb' `ta' `leumas_nehpets'> on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @05:04PM (#16757251) Homepage Journal
    I'mn scratching that system off of my list of possible destinations if we manage to run our current ecosystem into the ground and need to send refugees off to a replacement.
  • by OakDragon (885217) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @05:05PM (#16757255) Journal
    If the Sun were ever to produce such an outburst, it would almost certainly cause a mass extinction on Earth...

    What if we all ran inside real quick?

    • by aicrules (819392)
      Only if you hide behind the toilet...or a box of tofurky.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Sqweegee (968985)
      I believe the correct procedure when hit with "50 quintillion atomic bombs" is still to not look at the flash followed by duck and cover, isn't it?
      • by moranar (632206) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @05:22PM (#16757547) Homepage Journal

        From the HitchHiker's Guide to the Galaxy (movie version):

        Barman: Did you say the world is coming to an end? Shouldn't we all lie on the floor or put paper bags over our heads?
        Ford: If you like.
        Barman: Will it help?
        Ford: Not at all.
      • by khallow (566160)
        I believe the correct response is to brace yourself. That much energy has quite a kick. It'll throw you off balance if you're not ready for it.
      • by c6gunner (950153)
        You know, I never understood why people find the "duck and cover" thing so amusing.
        • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @07:25PM (#16760053) Homepage Journal
          You know, I never understood why people find the "duck and cover" thing so amusing.

          Personally I find it amusing because if you actually are nuked, the only thing that ducking and covering will accomplish is that your head will be very close to the proper location to kiss your ass goodbye.

          Excellent send-up of this concept in the South Park episode Volcano (Season 1.)

          • by c6gunner (950153)
            Ah. So it's the "there's nothing you can do, so you may as well go nuts" theory. Gotcha.

            Thing is, "duck and cover" was never meant to save lives at ground zero. You're absolutely right, anyone within 5 miles of a decent sized nuke will more than likely be vaporized or flattened by the concussion. However, anyone THAT close also won't have much of a chance to "avoid looking at the flash", let alone try to find a place to hide, since the blast will hit them before they even have a chance to think "oh shit
    • by malsdavis (542216) *
      Is there any evidence that earth has been affected by massive sun flares before?

      As the article states, the fact that the sun is "middle-aged" means that such flares are less likely but surely they must still happen occasionally over the course of hundreds of millions of years?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by IdleTime (561841)
        Flares from other stars will not have any effect on us. The sun flares all the time, but most flares are small.

        If you want to know more about the II Pegasi flare, the paper is called Nonthermal Hard X-ray Emission and Iron Kalpha Emission from a Superflare on II Pegasi [arxiv.org]
        • by malsdavis (542216) *
          I was actually only enquiring about "massive sun flares".

          i.e. flares which are 1. form our sun and 2. far bigger than the usual or even occasional flares

      • by dcsmith (137996) *
        "...the fact that the sun is "middle-aged" means that such flares are less likely..."

        OK, so maybe I AM middle aged, and I don't flare as often as I used to. I can still flare pretty much whenever I want to, and I flare quite nicely, thank you. I just need a little longer between flares than I did when I was in my 20,000,000s.

        The Sun

    • Don't worry, it'll probably happen at night, thus saving the planet.
    • ...imagine a beowolf cluster of these!
  • We likes pictures? Got any?
  • by User 956 (568564) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @05:08PM (#16757321) Homepage
    The energy released by the explosion on II Pegasi was equivalent to about 50 quintillion atomic bombs. If the Sun were ever to produce such an outburst, it would almost certainly cause a mass extinction on Earth.

    My fellow Americans, our only option is clear: We need to preemptively invade the sun.
    • "My fellow Americans, our only option is clear: We need to preemptively invade the sun."

      Preemptive? It's just striking back, is all. How much longer do we have to go on with them bombarding us with deadly radiation and killing us??!?!
      • by jandrese (485)
        It's all a conspiracy by the big Solar Power companies. They can't afford to let all of that energy fall into the hands of people who won't cowtow to them. That's why they've been lobbying so hard to get their executives into positions of power! It's all so clear now!
      • by kfg (145172)
        Oooooooooooh no! I'm not going down that road again. I've still got scars from the last time I cracked a joke about it.

        KFG
    • by kfg (145172)
      Show us the BMD (Beta of Mass Destruction).

      KFG
    • by harp2812 (891875)
      What kills me, is this comment currently has a higher Informative moderation than Funny... "My fellow Americans" indeed. ;)
    • by notnAP (846325)
      OK, fine.

      But I'm going to have to strongly oppose any plan that uses nukular weapons in space. I'm strongly opposed to the possibility of introducing nukular fallout in space.

    • My fellow Americans, our only option is clear: We need to preemptively invade the sun.

      We regret to inform you Mr. President that the invasion plans will have to be put on hold as we are experiencing extreme development problems with the fleet of coal powered inter planetary invasion shuttles Defense Secretary Rumsfeld insisted we develop to carry the invasion force. We would furthermore like to reiterate our previous advice that persuade Mr. Rumsfeld to consider the use of a more conventional power source.

      R

    • Why did this get 4, interesting when it was clearly 5, funny?
    • Leela: You know how much an [military base] that big would cost on the Sun?
    • by fbjon (692006)
      My fellow Americans, our only option is clear: We need to preemptively invade the sun.
      Best idea I've heard today! I'll even lend you guys my conveniently fueled and ready Space Ark. I call it, "B". Your trusted allies will follow shortly in "A", just as soon as you've hit the shores and set up home base.
    • My fellow Americans, our only option is clear: We need to preemptively invade the sun.


      The logistics of engaging in an invasion of the Sun without burning up are mind-numbingly astronomical. But I suppose if it was all done at night, our troops would be safe.

      • The logistics of engaging in an invasion of the Sun without burning up are mind-numbingly astronomical.

        Just land in the night ...

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by sootman (158191)
      50 quintillion atomic bombs? Reminds me of the Seinfeld bit:

      Why do we even use the term 'horsepower'?
      Is that to further humiliate horses?
      The space-shuttle rockets have 20 million horsepower.
      Is there any point in still comparing it... to the horses?
      Any chance of going back to using rockets with horses, trying to keep track of how many we're gonna need?
      "Hey, horse. There's a rocket engine that broke down. Can you get 20 million friends together really fast?"
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Isn't it nice that our tax dollars go to these awesome telescopes yet they can't show us a freaking picture.
    • Also, Swift is not designed to detect in the optical range. It's primarily designed to detect gamma rays, and in this case, x-rays. Any images that would be release would probably be spikes on a graph.

      From the article...

      "Swift's Burst Alert Telescope usually detects gamma-ray bursts, the most powerful explosions known, which arise from star explosions and star mergers. The II Pegasi flare was energetic enough create a false alarm for a burst detection. Scientists quickly knew this was a different kin

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)
      Here: .

      Are you happy?

      What, you want before and after? Fine, here.

      Before:

      After: .

      You did notice this is over a hundred light years away right?
  • by krell (896769) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @05:10PM (#16757357) Journal
    He arranged it to distract voters, and to also at the same time energize the "Keep us safe from space aliens" vote.
  • "The energy released by the explosion on II Pegasi was equivalent to about 50 quintillion atomic bombs. If the Sun were ever to produce such an outburst, it would almost certainly cause a mass extinction on Earth."

    This is just my unqualified, layman's opinion, but I agree.
  • Now we can have global BBQ with extra-crispy fries to go!

    (BTW, There are no escape exits [google.com]. Have a nice day!)
  • ...it was just Carter trying to blow up another star. =)

    She just wasn't happy with parting the Red Sea.
  • The flare was seen in December 2005 on a star slightly less massive than the sun...

    I'm sure it was news last year, though!

    • The news article was just published yesterday. Many research findings take awhile before they are released to the press.
  • by Zildy (32593)
    We're...we're gonna need more tucks medicated pads...


  • Someone forget to put SG-Atlantis on the notification list?
  • Old news (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @05:23PM (#16757555)
    This is a 135 year old story!
  • by iONiUM (530420) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @05:35PM (#16757709) Homepage Journal
    Here is the NASA link to this item:
    http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/swift/bursts/mon ster_flare.html [nasa.gov]

    I really wish slashdot would just link the real news item instead of the crappy ones it always seems to find. There wasn't even an image on the one they linked.
  • 50 quintillion atomic bombs

    OK, so that's a lot, but are we talking 50 quintillion North Korean bombs, or 50 quintillion Really Big Cold War Nation-State Smashers? The point is, analogies like that certainly convey the notion of "A Whole Lot Of Energy," but are really not very meaningful. Not like Libraries of Congress or end-to-end hanging chads that you can really get your head around.
    • Agreed. Can we get that estimate in Megadeaths please? It could mean the difference between two admittedly regrettable, but nevertheless, distinguishable post-war environments.
    • by geekoid (135745)
      "...analogies like that certainly convey the notion of "A Whole Lot Of Energy,"..."
      which is exatly what this analogy are supposed to do.
      If you used a specific refrence, it wouldn't be an analogy, would it? it would also be useless to the target audience of the article.

      People have seen picturs of atomic blasts, so it helps them understand.

      personally, I would like it compared how much energy are sun has over time.
      Like "It's the equivilent of get 5 years work of sunlight in 1 second!"
      Or "its the quivilent of b
  • Heres some pics of solar flares. [nasa.gov]

    None are the one FTA, but it probably looks like these, only shaped like some sort of a monster.
  • maybe it might make a bit more sense to use like exponential notation? A billion in the USA isw 10^9, in the UK, 10^12. A quintillion is even less well defined.

    BTW if a quintillion is 10^18, it's not that much. Our Sun puts out every second about 10^11 equivalent megatons of energy 50 x 10^18 is only 50 (US) billion times as much.

    • by imsabbel (611519)
      You think that the output of roughtly several ten 1000 years of sun in a few hours is nothing much?
      I guess you would even consider a supernova not worthwhile...
  • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @05:45PM (#16758057)
    The question is, how much flare does II Pegasi need to really express itself? 26? 37? Sure, the requirement is 11 pieces, but I'm sure it doesn't want to just do "the minimum".

    Now about those TPS reports...

  • What would a star do if a planet sized object ran into it?
    • Re:Collision (Score:4, Interesting)

      by ivanmarsh (634711) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @05:56PM (#16758369)
      I'm gonna' say: consume it quitely without much hoopla.
      http://www.gulker.com/2006/04/09.html [gulker.com]
      Keep in mind how far away from the Sun the Earth is in that image.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by geekoid (135745)
        "I'm gonna' say: consume it quitely without much hoopla."

        not for the people on the planet!
      • by ceoyoyo (59147)
        Cool picture, but I wish he'd said how far away from Earth Cassini was.
        • by ivanmarsh (634711)
          "Leaving the inner solar system" would put it somewhere near Mars' orbit... what's a few million miles.
          • by ceoyoyo (59147)
            Unless you put "leaving the inner solar system" halfway between Mars and Jupiter. That's almost a factor of two difference between Mars' orbit and the halfway point.

            If the camera is in the vicinity of Mars' orbit then Earth is actually closer to the camera than to the sun. Either way, this shot might make the Earth look small, but nowhere near as small as it SHOULD look compared to the sun.
            • by ivanmarsh (634711)
              True... though I would think of leaving the inner solar system to be at Mars' orbit. You're not leaving a city when you're half way to the next city... but, obviously, he didn't give a very helpful reference.

              You can also consider that a considerable amount of the dark spot that is the Earth in the photograph is probably also cast shadow. I would think that the only way that the moon could be showing up in the image at all is if it's creating a void in the sunlight much, much larger than its true size.

              None t
    • by $0.02 (618911)
      File a claim.
  • would contain at least one picture. Heck, even an illustration would do.
  • For those of you that like music that teaches science, here's on about the Swift satellite (the satellite that detected the flare discussed in the article). You can listen to the lyrics here [astrocappella.com] and the lyrics are posted here [astrocappella.com]. AstroCappella is the group that recorded this; they have several rather interesting songs available.
  • Extinction? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Scientists using NASA's Swift satellite have spotted a stellar flare on a nearby star so powerful that, had it been from our sun, it would have triggered a mass extinction on Earth.

    Do they mean -
    1. It would have caused mass extinction for sure
    or
    2. It would have caused mass extinction, if the solar flare was pointing to the earth ?

    My point being, the flare is directional. If it was not pointing to earth and still could have caused extinction, then it could mean

  • Woah (Score:3, Funny)

    by slackarse (875650) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @06:23PM (#16758903) Journal
    I read that as Space Telescope Monster Catches Fire. Too early in the morning for that kinda headline.
  • STAN
    We need to talk. Do you know what this is about?

    JOANNA
    My, uh, flair.

    STAN
    Yeah. Or, uh, your lack thereof. I'm counting and I only see fifteen pieces. Let me ask you a question, Joanna.

    JOANNA
    Umm-hmm.

    STAN
    What do you think of a person who only does the bare minimum?

    JOANNA
    Huh. What do I think? Let me tell you what I think, Stan. If you want me to wear thirty-seven pieces of flair like your pretty boy Brian over there, then why don't you just make the minimum thirty-seve

  • I for one welcome our new ionic overloards.
  • II Pegasi is a binary system 135 light-years from Earth
    Since the system is binary... This must be what the telescope actually saw: 01001111 01001101 01000110 01000111 01000010 01001111 01001111 01010101 01010101 01010101 01001101
  • That's not a solar flare, it was a black monolith using zero-point energy to smite one of it's failed experiments on creating intelligence.
  • So maybe this is what happend to the dino's, no meteor or anything, just a very big solar-flare..! This would explain why some died in very large numbers suddenly (initial exposure) and others dying a little more slowly (couple of days/weeks/months) because of the radiation.
  • From TFS:

    when twisted magnetic field lines in the solar atmosphere suddenly snap

    What next? Met office guy: - "Damn, I just broke an isobar!"

    Less hyperbole and more science, please.

  • What is the dividing line between a large flare explosion and small nova explosion?
  • Spin huge masses around each other at high speed, then marvel at the fact that shit gets flung off regularly. I think if this is news, Astronomers are dumber than I thought they were. What exactly are they hoping to learn from this that they couldn't simulate in a standard centrifuge?

Power corrupts. And atomic power corrupts atomically.

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