Here on Earth, we tend to think of our sun as the most powerful thing in existence. After all, the star gives our planet life. Furthermore, it casts its light on the rest of the solar system. It’s hard to wrap our minds around anything more powerful. However, space is vast and full of stars. Not long ago one far-off star erupted and released as much energy as a billion suns. That, in and of itself is awe-inspiring. The fact that all of that energy erupted in less than a second is just mind-boggling.
According to Live Science, the star that erupted is a magnetar. Usually, it is easy for astronomers to spot magnetars because they are thousands of times brighter than our sun. However, their eruptions are a little harder to track. They happen irregularly and are over in the blink of an eye.
Recently, researchers were lucky enough to catch one of these magnetar eruptions. Then, they studied the star that erupted and calculated the power that it released. They claim that the eruption created as much energy as our sun produces in 100,000 years. More impressively, it did so in about one-tenth of a second. Then, the star went back to normal.
AI Watched the Star as It Erupted
Usually, these magnetar eruptions are almost impossible to catch. Luckily, AI aboard the International Space Station was watching the star as it erupted. More specifically, the Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor witnessed the eruption last April. Since then, scientists have been studying the eruption. After months of work, they released their findings just before Christmas.
Scientists had two seconds’ worth of data to study. In that time, the star erupted and went back to normal. In fact, it was hard for them to distinguish the eruption from normal background noise. However, they finally narrowed it down. The eruption lasted 0.16 seconds. They were able to break down the event into four stages. They did this by studying the star’s energy output and the variation of the star’s magnetic field caused by the eruption.
More About Magnetars
Magnetars, like the one that erupted, are a type of neutron star with exceptionally strong magnetic fields.
Neutron stars form when another star collapses and dies in a supernova. During that celestial event, protons and electrons in the star’s core are compressed into a mass that combines gravity with powerful magnetic forces and high-speed rotation. These stars are normally between 1.3 and 2.5 solar masses. Our sun is one solar mass. All of this mass is compressed into a sphere that is about 12 miles in diameter.
In a neutron star, the mass is so compressed that a piece of the star the size of a sugar cube would weigh more than 1 billion tons.