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May 20, 2008

Monster flare erupts from young star

Posted: 09:37 AM ET

EV Lacertae seemed like an unremarkable star. A teenager in star time – just a few hundred million years old – it shines with one percent of our sun’s light and contains only a third of the sun’s mass.

A powerful flare emerges from the star EV Lacertae in this artist's depiction.

Suddenly, a flare with the power of thousands of solar flares erupted from this red dwarf. It was the brightest flare ever seen from a normal star other than the sun. NASA’s Swift satellite detected the flare on April 25, the agency just announced.

“Our sun was maybe as active as this for the first few to 10 million years,” said Stephen Drake, senior research scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. The sun “probably hasn’t done anything like this in the last billion years.”

The flare, which is a release of energy, could have implications for the search for planets that could inhabit life, Drake said. This type of star at this age still has a pretty hostile space environment, meaning any planets around it would have a very hard time supporting life.

If you’re looking for planets that might have life, you probably don’t want to look at stars less than a billion years old, Drake said. “It’s pretty tough for life to develop given amount of ionizing radiation that would be hitting their atmosphere,” he said.

The moody EV Lacertae rotates once every four days, while our sun rotates once every four weeks. The young star is more than 100 times as magnetically powerful as the sun because of its faster rotation, which generates more powerful localized magnetic fields.

When these magnetic fields get jostled around, they twist, break, and reconnect. A lot of energy gets released as a result, creating flares.

The flare from EV Lacertae was so bright that the energy shining back on the star made it brighten considerably, Drake said.

Had the star been easily observable at the time, the flare event would have been visible to the naked eye, NASA said. At a distance of 16 light years, or about 94 trillion miles, it is one of the closest stars to Earth.

The Konus instrument on NASA’s Wind satellite first detected the flare, then Swift’s X-ray telescope caught it a couple minutes later, NASA said. But the flare was so bright that Swift’s Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope shut itself down for safety reasons.

–Elizabeth Landau, Associate Producer,

Filed under: NASA • Space

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Larian LeQuella   May 20th, 2008 9:43 am ET

Love the artist depiction! 🙂

Considering the star is only a few hundred million years old, I'm sure it will continue to display a lot of characteristics that we aren't totally familiar with. Hopefully it will help us further understand stellar formation and evolution. Too bad it's not a G series star, that would have made it even more interesting.

Mark Love   May 20th, 2008 10:04 am ET

Lines of magnetic force do not " break and reconnect". This is bad science and is part of the reason why the general population's understanding of physics etc is often wrong.

Jim   May 20th, 2008 10:12 am ET

Solar flares may be an explaination for the glass beads on the lunar surface. Wonder what they would look like from the ground on Earth...?

Larian LeQuella   May 20th, 2008 11:05 am ET

Correct Mark! However, it serves for a layman's discussion. Remember, the general public is scientifically illiterate! By the way, that would be a great SciTech Blog post, wouldn't it!

Jim, the glass beads already have an explanation that doesn't involve solar flares.

mr. love   May 20th, 2008 11:22 am ET

yes u are all correct

Qwickset   May 20th, 2008 11:41 am ET

So...this flare actually happened 16 years ago, correct?

Franko   May 20th, 2008 12:07 pm ET

Search for: Carrington-class flare

Our Sun could kill the silicon chips.
Fry the electrical distribution transformers.
With all cars' computers disabled, won't have to buy gas.
Perhaps lock up a few spare laptops inside a copper box.

Back to vacum tube radio and TV sets ?

Some DEW line (Distant Early Warning radar to detect Russian missiles) installations used to have shielded rooms with very thick
copper doors.

The flare and global cooling are high probability threaths.

D. Cape   May 20th, 2008 12:12 pm ET

If this to happen won't it burn up as it passes?

Jim   May 20th, 2008 1:51 pm ET

Larian LeQuella May 20th, 2008 11:05 am ET

Jim, the glass beads already have an explanation that doesn’t involve solar flares.

I know the impact theory, and a bit about the "slow formation" method (but not enough nearly for my tastes!) Which were you referring to? Flares would not only account for beads but the crusts......

Wally   May 20th, 2008 3:50 pm ET

Wow! Only 16 light years away! Can we on earth feel any of it's affects? Can there be other "unknowns" like this that can cause our planet to warm up? How do we know this star is only a few hundred million years old and that our sun hasn't had similar events for the last billion years? I just love the last sentence where the brightness caused the Swift’s Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope to blink - classic!

Deacon   May 20th, 2008 4:06 pm ET

This is pretty amazing, especially so close to us. But in a way its also disappointing, that is for those of us keeping score with the drake equation. One less type of star to get excited about.

Nirrad Nagrom   May 20th, 2008 7:11 pm ET

I wonder if Solar Flares have an effect on Global Warming.

sara   May 20th, 2008 11:39 pm ET


it reminds me of the song "Solar Flare" by Glen Phillips

goodnight moon
goodnight air
goodnight captain
in the captain's chair
goodbye teeth
and goodbye hair
you were taken by the solar flare

goodnight earth
goodnight mother
goodnight planets
still undiscovered
when you awaken
i will not be there
i was taken by the solar flare

godbless capsule
godbless crew
godbless computer
and god bless you
remember me well
and keep me in your prayers
still burning in the solar flare
i am burning in the solar flare

Franko   May 21st, 2008 2:11 am ET

"I wonder if Solar Flares have an effect on Global Warming."

When the power transformers are fried, no lights or fans,
Guess what, jump in population 9 months after.

When a really big flare erupts, the Silicon dies
No computersb and back to reading by firelight.

Jim   May 21st, 2008 10:49 am ET

What use is a chocolate manhole cover? (Niven story that includes flare)

roderick stark   May 21st, 2008 11:30 am ET

How do they know that it was a solar flare,mabey something hit this star.

Franko   May 22nd, 2008 2:57 am ET

"it reminds me of the song “Solar Flare” by Glen Phillips""

Looks like he is being sucked into a chocklate Black Hole.
Death by Ice, Fire, Solar Flare, Black Hole, or eaten by a Polar Bear.
And those are the unlucky, who die on a deathbed.

"How do they know that it was a solar flare,mabey something hit this star."

I wonder also, two stars approaching
with their combined speed greater than the speed of light ?

garth cummings   May 22nd, 2008 3:25 pm ET


maddawg   May 23rd, 2008 7:54 am ET

hey mark,

how do you know what a stars physics 16 light years away can or can't do??

how close minded you must be to absolutely assume properties of things you know maybe less than 1/100th of 1 percent about.

you must be a physics noob with a limited understanding of the small fraction of physics you have access to here in your little world, let alone what else the universe holds.

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