February 20, 2005

Dying Star Gets Cranky, Lashes Out At Universe

On December 27 of this past year I was going about my day - sleeping off my holiday binge, perhaps - when the Nasa Swift Satellite that had been put into service just the previous week observed a blast of energy from across the galaxy that was brighter than all the trillion stars of the Milky Way combined. Strike that, I goofed: One HALF-trillion stars of the Milky Way. Only brighter than 500 Billion Stars, combined. That's different... So, this pulse of energy was merely the equivalent of 150,000 years of our own sun's energy, all squeezed into one-fifth of a second.

The New York Times Article about it today goes on to describe this little remnant of a neutron star as less than 15 miles in diameter yet 1.5 times our own sun's mass. I love this stuff. Way better than reading about Richard Hoagland, that loony toon who still claims there's a face on Mars (along with the requisite NASA cover-up).

This little star, although it is apparently a little slow by neutron-star standards, is spinning so fast that in the time it takes you to read this sentence it will have completed yet another full rotation on it's axis. That's 7.5 seconds for a full "day". Time flies when you're a dying star. Anyway, I did a little math and it appears that the surface of this mite is moving at about 20,000 miles per hour. No wonder it's a little edgy!

It has this amazingly powerful magnetic field that could, say from the distance of Mars, wipe all the info off your credit cards. Not to mention how it would affect Modest Mouse on your I-pod.

It's a rare breed called a Magnetar. Now that's good. Magnetar's good friends Gundam and Godzilla say they've seen him flare up a few times before, but never like this. "He usually saves that kind of a display for the furtherance of good," added his Superfriends Academy classmate Evangelion, "but sometimes you just have to blow off a little steam. I hope Magnetar's feeling better."

Pokemon and Microman could not be reached for comment.

This story says this epic gamma ray blast happened "just across the Milky Way from Earth". I like that, too. Just a hop, skip, and a jump through deep space. It would take 50,000 years to get there at the speed of light but it sounds as if you could take the back way and get a cup of sugar for that cake you're baking. Or a Gatorade for weathering your binge. Just be a minute.

In fact, the time element is always fun in stories like this. The reportage quite naturally says the blast occured when it was observed, you know, in December, when in fact it was 150,000 years ago. ("And in other news, Napoleon Bonaparte has taken Moscow. Nobody was there so he's coming back before it gets too cold.")


At 3:45 PM, Anonymous Moonlight Mark said...

Hi Don:

Thanks for the comment on Hodges. I was over there today on Del Dios and the Dam spillway looked like Niagra Falls--really gushing. There was a crowd gathered to watch. Been along time since I saw that--and as I remember there was not as much volume last time.

It was pretty cool and I took some pictures I will put on my photoblog at marksspot2photos.blogspot.com if you want ot look at them in the next day or so!


At 4:08 PM, Blogger Omni said...

Just FYI, the Times link isn't helpful unless one is registered on that site; nevertheless, it's an interesting story... I don't think I'd ever heard of magnetars, so I learned something new. :-)

At 5:09 PM, Blogger Don Sheffler said...

I should have noted that registration is required; usually I do. It is free, but what a bother, eh?


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