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Space Science

Fifth Anniversary of a Cosmic Onslaught 162

The Bad Astronomer writes "Five years ago today (December 27, 2004), a vast wave of high-energy gamma and X-rays washed over the Earth, blinding satellites and partially ionizing the Earth's atmosphere. The culprit was a superflare from the magnetar SGR 1806-20, located 50,000 light years away. The energy released was mind-numbing: in one-fifth of a second, this supercharged magnetic neutron star blasted out as much energy as the Sun does in 250,000 years!"
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Fifth Anniversary of a Cosmic Onslaught

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  • I guess slashdot's servers must by 5 light years away huh?

    • by john83 ( 923470 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @03:37PM (#30564772)
      Someone here has to submit the story to the slashdot servers. Assuming it's accepted immediately, as the standard of editing suggests, someone who sent a page request for the frontpage just after the submission would see the story when the frontpage got back to him. His request for the story then has to be propagated to the server, which has to reply. This means that the server is not more than 1.25 light years away from Earth. Clearly, you must be new here.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by peragrin ( 659227 )

        Oddly enough that explains all the dupes one sees on slashdot quite well. They are being uploaded from various star systems, and teh editors don't see the final page until after they have already clicked on submit.

      • by mortonda ( 5175 )

        You, sir, are a geek. Well, then... carry on!

    • The news is actually 50,005years old gawd.. RTFS
  • Cause (Score:2, Funny)

    by OverlordQ ( 264228 )

    After investigating further, the scientists found that the the star likely ate at Chipotle earlier in the day.

  • So what if something big happened somewhere in universe 50005 years ago? Things happen, move on!
    • by JesseL ( 107722 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @03:36PM (#30564766) Homepage Journal

      It didn't happen 50005 years ago, it happened 5 years ago and 50000 light years away. There is no objective time.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        5 years ago is "Earth receive time".
        50005 years ago is when it happened in Earth's frame of reference.

        There is no objective time, but that's not a reason to go on a crusade and burn every calendar and clock we have. We're on Earth, so we use Earth's frame of reference.

      • by Urkki ( 668283 )

        It didn't happen 50005 years ago, it happened 5 years ago and 50000 light years away. There is no objective time.

        No, you've got it all wrong. It's happening as we speak. Just ask the photons.

      • Aaah the joys of relativity.

        I challenge you to figure out where and when the event actually happened relative to a given fixed position.

        Everything is moving around, and no given reference point sees where everything really is at any given time, just where it was at any given time in the past (depending on distance).

        Try not to think about it too hard. Your head will asplode.

        • by JesseL ( 107722 )

          The reason your head will asplode is because you're still talking about stuff like "where everything really is" - which is meaningless.

  • 50,000? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Tablizer ( 95088 )

    50,000 light years away and did all that? Imagine if it was say only 500 ly. We are kind of lucky that we don't have any flaky stars nearby....or do we?.....(cue scary music).

    Or sometimes far off stars merely have to "point" our way. Magnetism and other forces can focus radiation like a lens, and it may all point to a narrow spot in the sky. If your planet happens to be in the path of the beam, woes be. God doesn't play dice with the universe, he plays Russian Roulette. Time to buy some galactic insurance.

    • Or 5 ly, like Alpha Centauri!

    • Eta Carinae (Score:5, Interesting)

      by AliasMarlowe ( 1042386 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @06:11PM (#30566022) Journal

      50,000 light years away and did all that? Imagine if it was say only 500 ly. We are kind of lucky that we don't have any flaky stars nearby....or do we?.....(cue scary music).

      Eta Carinae is expected to go supernova real soon (astronomical time scale - could be tomorrow, could be 10^6 years from now). It's less than 8000 ly away which is not very close, but much closer than 50000ly. And when it goes pop, Eta Carinae will be a pretty big one. Its rotation axis does not point towards us, so effects would be mostly limited to satellites and anything in the upper atmosphere. []

    • If this planet were a lot closer to stars like the article describes, then we wouldn't be here to ask such questions.
  • It was me. (Score:1, Offtopic)

    by unity100 ( 970058 )

    I activated my Saturday Night Fever Ray Device i hid near pluton. Puny earthlings. Expect more of this to come - i will turn all of you to freaks like below : []

  • So that way I got a 771 error

  • Tsunami (Score:5, Funny)

    by Lord Lode ( 1290856 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @04:10PM (#30565030)

    That's just 1 day after the tsunami. Could there be a connection?!

    • Not likely. Tsunamis rarely cause starquakes.

    • Since the tsunami was west of the dateline, and TFA didn't mention the time or coordinate system used, I thought it might have been possible...
      But according to wikipedia, the earthquake that caused the tsunami occurred at 2004-12-26 00:58 UTC. According to this paper [], the "cosmic onslaught" hit us at 2004-12-27 21:30 UTC.
      So, no. It isn't possible for the neutron star event to have caused the tsunami as it was outside of the tsunami event's light cone.
      • Yes, the magnetar was outside the tsunami's light cone by around 50000 light-years. Remember, even if the earthquake had enough energy that could propagate through vacuum, that information will only reach the magnetar in ~50 thousand years. Yeah, the earthquake probably emitted some energy in gravitational waves and gravitational waves propagate in vacuum, but a really, really small amount of energy went that way; and you can safely say that the amount of energy from it that will someday reach the magnetar

  • Seriously this sounds like the event that made the Fantastic Four, maybe some astronauts or cosmonauts need to be checked.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by rrohbeck ( 944847 )

      Phil says further down in the comments that the ISS was behind the earth when the main pulse hit.
      If it had been in front, the astronauts would have gotten the equivalent of a dental X-ray.

    • Seriously this sounds like the event that made the Fantastic Four, maybe some astronauts or cosmonauts need to be checked.

      I call dibs on checking the chick you've not yet found. You can keep the rocky formation, the Bonzo impersonator and the unmanly... unmanlily? ...unmanley?... gay stretchy guy.

    • by HTH NE1 ( 675604 )

      On an outer-space adventure
      They got hit by cosmic rays
      And the four would change forever
      In some most fantastic ways

      No need to fear
      They're here
      Just call for Four
      Fantastic Four

      "Don't need no more."
      "That's ungrammatical!"

      Oh, Reed Richards is elastic
      Sue can fade from sight
      Johnny is The Human Torch
      The Thing just loves to fight

      Call for Four
      Fantastic Four
      Fantastic Four

      There's Galactus looking hungry
      And old Dr. Doom is near
      Here come the Skrulls invading
      Do you run and hide in fear?

      No way, no way
      No way
      Just call for Fo

    • Seriously this sounds like the event that made the Fantastic Four, maybe some astronauts or cosmonauts need to be checked. Well, there was that good-looking astronaut named Sue Richards that was in orbit at the time, but they can't check her because for some reason nobody can find her. When asked about it, NASA's only reply was "We haven't seen her."
      • It was Sue Storm who was in orbit.
        • Well, the uppity little bitch SHOULD HAVE CHANGED HER NAME when she married Reed Richards!!! (Seeing corrections made by authoritative experts on the cast of old comic books is just one of the reasons I read slashdot.)
  • Blasted Whom? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @05:51PM (#30565840) Homepage Journal

    The blast lasted 200ms. During that time, half the Earth was facing away, shielded by not just atmosphere, but the rock of the solid Earth. Which direction relative to the Earth (latitude, longitude) did the blast come in from, and hit directly (except for atmosphere, and a bit of satellite shadow)?

    On a related subject, which direction does our Solar System "point" at? When it's the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, what angle on our solar orbit are we making with a line directly to the galactic core? What angle that day with the a tangent to our galactic orbit? Where are we looking at, anyway?

    • It's all relative. :)

      There will be some very upset folks in the future. Eventually, we will meet up with some ancient space traveling race, and they've already mapped 10x our visible universe. We'll find out that the the magnetic alignment of North and South, universally South is considered "up", and our solar system is on a weird tilt compared to other populated systems. Because of that tilt, it's knocked all of our planets on weird axis tilts, and has made humans deformed

      • Thank you for answering none of my questions, including an answer you denoted as obvious.

        • Well, it's all relative.

          From This report []

          "SGR 180620 was 5.25 from the Sun at the time of these observations"

          From This report []

          "The times of the flares were 21:28:03.5 and 21:30:26.6 UTC"

          So, if you could see our Sun at those times (+- 5.25), or you could see the moon, you could see it. Other reports indicated that it was clearly reflected off the moon also, which would be expected.

          Check the star chart [] for that time. If

          • for visibility of Sagittarius A. From my location, I'll be able to see it on Dec 21, 2012, around 2pm, low to the south. It'll be kinda bright, so unless the sun happens to burn out I won't be seeing much other than blue skies.

            Hmmm, and Eta Carinae is in the same general area of the sky as Saggitarius (speaks the northern-hemisphericist, using a broad brush).
            If *that* star pops at *that* time (in Earth's reference frame, I for one hail our new hypernova-wielding-JWSmythe overlords!

    • The earth always "points" the same direction, towards Polaris in the North. (Always is relative..., but in this instance, "always" defines a few human lifetimes)

      So, since the center of the galaxy is located somewhere between Sagittarius and Scorpius, and those constellations are visible during the northern hemisphere's summer, I'm assuming that the Northern Hemisphere points away from the Galatic center, while the Southern Hemisphere points (slightly) towards the center.

      • A given point on the Earth's surface faces one half the universe at any time, with the other half blocked by the Earth behind it (actually the unblocked part is a little bigger than the blocked part because the Earth's surface curves back into the blocked part). It's a given point on the surface, most of which points (except for the poles) travel in a circle around the Earth's axis, and with the Earth in an ellipse around the Sun, that I'm talking about.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      That's an interesting question.

      I did some quick calculations, and it appears that the blast was "above" 23.28 degrees S and 142.13 degrees W. This is over ocean, but Tahiti (and other islands) are nearby.

      • We have a winner :).

        Interesting that the blast hit the Earth from an angle at which nearly all Earth's humans were blocked by the mass of our planet. "Near Tahiti" is approximately the center of the least populated hemisphere on Earth.

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