When stars explode: Forget solar storm causing CME, just check out stellar surface mass ejection

    If you thought that strong coronal mass ejections (CME) that can cause intense solar storm activity on Earth was the worst thing a star’s emission was capable of, wait till you find out about stellar surface mass ejection (SSME).
    By: HT TECH
    | Updated on: Aug 13 2022, 10:28 IST
    AMAZING image of Earendel star captured by NASA's James Webb Space Telescope
    James Webb Space Telescope
    1/5 http://tech.hindustantimes.com/tech/news/nasa-james-webb-space-telescope-captures-the-image-of-the-most-distant-star-in-the-universe-named-earendel-71659511630090.html (NASA)
    2/5 The image was tweeted on August 2 by a group of astronomers who post images from the James Webb Space Telescope through the Cosmic Spring JWST Twitter account. The image was captioned, “We're excited to share the first JWST image of Earendel, the most distant star known in our universe, lensed and magnified by a massive galaxy cluster. It was observed Saturday by JWST program 2282”. (AP)
    Earendel - the most distant star in the Universe ever seen
    3/5 The Earendel star was discovered earlier this year by the old Hubble Space Telescope. Although it managed to capture the star, the image was not as clear as the one taken by James Webb Telescope. (NASA)
    4/5 In comparison, its successor, James Webb Space Telescope captured the image which showed the faint red glow of the Earendel star and the starry trail on which it lies. The star is seen as a tiny red speck at the lower right side of the image. (NASA)
    James Webb Space Telescope
    5/5 To capture these distant objects in detail, astronomers use Gravitational lensing. Celestial objects such as stars and galaxies bend light emitting from the objects behind them due to its gravitational fields. When this light from farther stars passes through these massive celestial objects, it acts like it is passing through the lens of a telescope and becomes magnified. This enables astronomers to capture them in extreme detail. (NASA)
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    Stellar surface mass ejection (SSME) can send 400 billion times as much mass as a typical CME. A solar storm caused by this would be enough to burn the Earth to a crisp. (NASA)

    For decades, scientists have been worried about the disastrous impact of the most destructive G5 solar storms on Earth. By even the most optimistic estimates, it would damage a large number of satellites, cause power grid failures and defunct GPS, mobile connectivity and internet services for 6 months to an year. But recently, the Hubble Space Telescope has captured something that has truly terrified astronomers. Capturing the stellar surface mass ejection (SSME) of the bright red supergiant star Betelgeuse, it was recorded that compared to a typical G5 solar storm causing coronal mass ejection, it sent about 400 billion times more mass in space. That is enough to burn the Earth to a crisp, many times over. So, can our Sun ever do this to us? Read on to find out.

    The event itself is not new. The Red Supergiant star Betelgeuse disintegrated a large part of its surface and sent it across space in 2019. The tenth-brightest star in the night sky displayed the first-ever recorded case of surface mass ejection, which was something scientists did not even think was possible. NASA reported that the supergiant lost a significant amount of mass and dimmed down after the event. And now, it is finally recovering from the incident and regaining its glow. But while Betelgeuse can survive blowing its top off, the same might not be true for surrounding celestial bodies. And if our Earth were to be on the receiving end of it, it would not survive it either.

    Noting the incident, Andrea Dupree, from the Harvard and Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics said, "We've never before seen a huge mass ejection of the surface of a star. We are left with something going on that we don't completely understand. It's a totally new phenomenon that we can observe directly and resolve surface details with Hubble. We're watching stellar evolution in real time".

    Can a similar gargantuan solar storm hit the Earth

    Nothing can be said for sure as we do not fully understand the SME incident but scientists believe such an erratic explosion is definitely not common among stars, especially smaller and more stable stars like our Sun. So, while we cannot fully rule out being hit by a surface mass ejection in future, for now, it is very unlikely. Right now, our biggest enemies are the sunspots, CME and the solar winds that take down communication systems on a regular basis.

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    First Published Date: 13 Aug, 10:28 IST
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