On December 27, 2004 Earth was hit by the brightest flash ever detected in our galaxy distorting the ionosphere and affecting radio communications. The flash was from a star across the galaxy near the galactic center which experienced a starquake, or gamma ray burst, that released more energy in 1/10th of a second than the sun releases in 100,000 years. Had this star or magnetar been closer (or the blast stronger) it could have destroyed Earth’s atmosphere and caused a mass extinction. What caused this starquake? Is the galactic center becoming more active? Is this why, as some researchers believe, Mayan prophecies seem to be pointing our attention to the galactic center on December 21, 2012? Is a bigger blast still to come? Read the two stories below and decide for yourself.
Cosmic Explosion Among the Brightest in Recorded History
Scientists have detected a flash of light from across the Galaxy so powerful that it bounced off the Moon and lit up the Earth’s upper atmosphere. The flash was brighter than anything ever detected from beyond our Solar System and lasted over a tenth of a second. NASA and European satellites and many radio telescopes detected the flash and its aftermath on December 27, 2004. Two science teams report about this event at a special press event today at NASA headquarters. A multitude of papers are planned for publication. The scientists said the light came from a “giant flare” on the surface of an exotic neutron star, called a magnetar. The apparent magnitude was brighter than a full moon and all historical star explosions. The light was brightest in the gamma-ray energy range, far more energetic than visible light or X-rays and invisible to our eyes. Such a close and powerful eruption raises the question of whether an even larger influx of gamma rays, disturbing the atmosphere, was responsible for one of the mass extinctions known to have occurred on Earth hundreds of millions of years ago. Also, if giant flares can be this powerful, then some gamma-ray bursts (thought to be very distant black-hole-forming star explosions) could actually be from neutron star eruptions in nearby galaxies. NASA’s newly launched Swift satellite and the NSF-funded Very Large Array (VLA) were two of many observatories that observed the event, arising from neutron star SGR 1806-20, about 50,000 light years from Earth in the constellation Sagittarius. “This might be a once-in-a-lifetime event for astronomers, as well as for the neutron star,” said Dr. David Palmer of Los Alamos National Laboratory, lead author on a paper describing the Swift observation. “We know of only two other giant flares in the past 35 years, and this December event was one hundred times more powerful.” Read the entire story here.
Brightest Galactic Flash Ever Detected Hits Earth
A huge explosion halfway across the galaxy packed so much power it briefly altered Earth’s upper atmosphere in December, astronomers said Friday. No known eruption beyond our solar system has ever appeared as bright upon arrival. But you could not have seen it, unless you can top the X-ray vision of Superman: In gamma rays, the event equaled the brightness of the full Moon’s reflected visible light. The blast originated about 50,000 light-years away and was detected Dec. 27. A light-year is the distance light travels in a year, about 6 trillion miles (10 trillion kilometers). The commotion was caused by a special variety of neutron star known as a magnetar. These fast-spinning, compact stellar corpses — no larger than a big city — create intense magnetic fields that trigger explosions. The blast was 100 times more powerful than any other similar eruption witnessed, said David Palmer of Los Alamos National Laboratory, one of several researchers around the world who monitored the event with various telescopes. “Had this happened within 10 light-years of us, it would have severely damaged our atmosphere and possibly have triggered a mass extinction,” said Bryan Gaensler of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). There are no magnetars close enough to worry about, however, Gaensler and two other astronomers told SPACE.com. But the strength of the tempest has them marveling over the dying star’s capabilities while also wondering if major species die-offs in the past might have been triggered by stellar explosions. Read the rest of the article here.