A Star with a Napoleon Complex?

No, really, I can hang with the big boys!

Although this is usually something we hear from people who are seemingly out of their league, due to diminutive stature, here on Earth:

(Muggsy Bogues is awesome.) Apparently, there are stars out there that have the same Napoleon Complex. According to this Press Release, a star only 1% as bright as the Sun just released a burst of energy as powerful as 1000 solar flares!

Now, that link is only too happy to provide you with an artist’s rendition of what happened:

But let’s compare this with real stuff, instead. Our Sun has a magnetic field that’s pretty powerful, and the very hot plasma in the Sun often follows these field lines.

When there are changes in the magnetic field due to things like the Sun’s rotation and internal activity, the plasma gets shot off in what we see as a solar flare:

But this star, EV Lacertae, although it’s much smaller and less bright than the Sun, also rotates about 6 times as fast. This means stronger magnetic fields, and hence, larger flares! Although this star is 16 light-years away, when NASA’s Swift satellite pointed its camera at it to observe it, the satellite automatically shut its telescope off because it was so bright! We must have been directly in the path of this Solar Flare, which didn’t diffuse much at all.

This is by far the brightest outburst we’ve ever seen from a star this small! But what do we learn about from this, at the end of the day? Well, a little bit of history about our own Solar System:

Since EV Lacertae is 15 times younger than our Sun, it gives us a window into our solar system’s early history. Younger stars rotate faster and generate more powerful flares, so in its first billion years the sun must have let loose millions of energetic flares that would have profoundly affected Earth and the other planets.

Amazing how an instrument designed to study black holes in other galaxies is actually teaching us about something as close and intimate as our own Solar System, isn’t it?

Update: There are also write-ups of this story on Bad Astronomy and on Universe Today, if you want to see what other astronomers have to say about it!


  1. #1 benhead
    May 20, 2008


    Wow, I should set aside GTA IV for a half hour or so tonight to play that again….

  2. #2 ethan
    May 20, 2008

    Ah, yes, the infamous NBA Jam. I still remember you cursing Muggsy Bogues’ name.

  3. #3 adele
    December 13, 2008

    i think the pics of the sun are really affective.there loads of pictures of the sun but this 1 is the best ive seen its really errr eye catchin thats the word.lol.kk see ya i hope you enjoy this comment i have written.

  4. #4 ethan
    December 13, 2008

    Thanks Adele! I’m glad you like the Sun pictures!

  5. #5 crd
    September 19, 2010


    You showed us how magnetic fields affect the release of energy from a star in the form of solar flares. My question is, when a large enough star goes supernova and the core collapses, how does this collapse change the overall strength of the magnetic field? Does the field becomes stronger or weaker with core collapse, and how much effect does (if any) the field have on the exterior of the star as its blown into space? Does the field have any effect of the direction of the blast? I tend to think the energy from the blast would over power any magnetic forces.