BAT/XRT flare from II Peg
Credit: Osten et al.; NASA

Neighbor Killer

The sun flares; energetic particle acceleration in intensified magnetic fields produces explosions of energy which can be surprisingly powerful, and dangerous to anyone not shielded by the blanket of the earth's atmosphere. But in the youth of the solar system, these powerful eruptions were even more deadly. How deadly? Astronomers don't know for sure, but they've now seen an event on an active, "flare" star called II Peg which is more powerful than any flare ever seen from the sun. The flare was detected by both the Burst Alert Telescope and the X-ray Telescope on the Swift observatory. Swift was designed to detect gamma-ray bursts, believed to be the death explosions of extremely massive stars; but the flare on II Peg was so pronounced that it fooled Swift into thinking that it was a gamma-ray burst. The image above shows the lightcurve of the burst detected by the BAT and the XRT. Fortunately II Peg is more than 100 lightyears away; if it were closer, this flare could have had a profound negative impact on life on earth.

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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified Friday, 20-Apr-2012 15:27:17 EDT