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There Goes the Neighborhood

Nadya Johnson

Joined January 2009

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The Magnetar: Worst Case Scenario #9

Just when you thought you knew the list… Earth is sucked into a monster magnet!

(Inspired by The Science Channel: 10 Strangest Things in the Universe)
Featured in INSPIRED ART ~ SPACE WORKS ~ THE X FACTOR

Please scroll down to read

Until fairly recently, scientists assured us that the solar system was a safe, stable neighborhood with few threats to jeopardize the Earth. Even the idea of an incoming asteroid was looked upon as science fiction stuff. For decades, even centuries, astronomers believed that a collision with an asteroid or comet was about as likely as an incoming battle-fleet from Mars. The belief was, that all such phenomena happened in the distant past. Then ~ a change in paradigm. Along came Shoemaker-Levy, the enormous comet which impacted Jupiter in July of 1994, punching holes in its face some of which were larger than the Earth. Yes, there were threatening objects in the solar system after all!

And yes, some could (and some day, might) impact the Earth. The list of these potential Cosmic Boogey-men grew longer by the year, including not only asteroids and comets but a litany of stranger things, things much scarier which herald from beyond our solar system ~ such as rogue black holes and wandering planets (worlds which drift through space without a parent sun) any one of which could cruise through our vicinity resulting in Catastrophe if luck ran out. Not only do such harridans exist; the consensus today, is that they’re out there by the millions. It seems the galaxy, far from being staid and stable, is a Universal pin-ball machine! And now ~ a new one on the list (or new to some of us)… the Magnetar.

Magnetars, a sort of neutron star sometimes created when a massive sun goes supernovae, are the most magnetic objects ever detected in the universe.

Little is known about the physical structure of magnetars because none are sufficiently close to Earth to facilitate study. And that’s a good thing! Magnetars are only 12 miles in diameter, give or take, but have a far greater mass than the Sun. The density of a magnetar is such that a thimbleful of its substance, sometimes referred to as neutronium, would have a mass of over 100 million tons.

Magnetars are primarily characterized by their extremely powerful magnetic fields, which can often reach the order of ten gigateslas. These magnetic fields are hundreds of millions of times stronger than any man-made magnet,and quadrillions of times more powerful than the field surrounding Earth. At a distance halfway to the moon, a magnetar would strip information from all credit cards on Earth and erase all data on the planet! As it edged closer in, everything metal would be sucked into its vortex and at several thousand miles out, the field would be lethal, tearing tissues due to the diamagnetism of water. No such encounter would be survivable because the Earth itself would be absorbed into the maw as well.

We have had no direct experience with Magnetars (for which we can be thankful!) but our first brush with such a monster occurred in 1979. On March 5th of that year, a few months after the successful dropping of satellites into the atmosphere of Venus, two Soviet spacecraft that were then drifting through the solar system were hit by a blast of gamma ray radiation at approximately 10:51 EST. This contact raised the radiation readings on both the probes from a normal 100 counts per second to over 200,000 counts a second, in only a fraction of a millisecond.

This burst of gamma rays quickly continued to spread. Eleven seconds later, Helios 2, a NASA probe in orbit around the Sun, was saturated by the blast of radiation. It soon hit Venus, and the Pioneer Venus Orbiter’s detectors were overcome by the wave. Seconds later, Earth received the wave of radiation, where the powerful output of gamma rays inundated the detectors of three U.S. Department of Defense Vela satellites, the Soviet Prognoz 7 satellite, and the Einstein Observatory. Just before the wave exited the solar system, the blast also hit the International Sun-Earth Explorer. This extremely powerful blast of gamma ray radiation constituted the strongest wave of extra-solar gamma rays ever detected; it was over 100 times more intense than any known previous extra-solar burst. Because gamma rays travel at the speed of light and the time of the pulse was recorded by several distant spacecraft as well as on Earth, the source of the gamma radiation could be calculated to an accuracy of about 2 arcseconds. The direction of the source corresponded with the remnants of a star that had gone supernova around 3000 B.C.

On December 27 of 2004, a burst of gamma rays arrived in our solar system from SGR 1806-20. The burst was so powerful that it had effects on Earth’s atmosphere, at a range of over 50,000 light years.

As of April 2011, twenty one magnetars are known, with five more candidates awaiting confirmation. None are near us ~ and for that, we can thank our lucky stars!

(The Marauder here is drawn very large for artistic purposes, but would be very tiny in comparison to Earth. Hopefully we’ll never have one in the neighborhood to get a closer look! The chance of such a catastrophic meeting is so slim, it’s virtually a Zero; but if you’re worried over mundane stuff like bills or leaking faucets, think of this. It will put things in perspective! )

Some of the above information is from Wikipedia.

Created in Photoshop
Star field is from NASA/ the rest is done with custom brushes.

Artwork Comments

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