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?