# Flare Star Goes Wild in Minutes

The star WX UMa went from 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit to 30,000 degrees F in less than three minutes. Chris Crockett reports

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Imagine if your living room zoomed from a comfy 70 degrees to 3,000. In less time than it usually takes to boil an egg. Well, a star did the equivalent—it went from 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit to 30,000 degrees in less than three minutes. And got 15 times brighter in the process.

Sixteen light-years away, the star WX Ursa Majoris is what’s called a “flare star.” It’s usually a red dwarf: cooler, fainter and smaller than the sun. But every so often, it goes wild.

Why certain stars flare remains a mystery. But astronomers think it starts with a disruption in the star’s magnetic field. Parts of the field twist, break and reconnect. As they do, energy gets pumped into the star’s atmosphere, and the candle becomes a searchlight. The observations are in the journal Astrophysics. [N. D. Melikian et al., Spectral observations of flare stars in the neighborhood of the sun]

WX orbits another, bigger star. Astronomers are watching to see if that neighbor is an instigator. Should future flares sync to the stars’ orbits, we’ll gain insights into flare stars and on how binary stars affect one another. The research should shed some light.

—Chris Crockett

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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1. 1. SteveO 12:54 PM 7/9/13

Thanks for not making the common error of multiplying 70 times 6 to get the equivalent of six times the temperature.

For anyone who missed it, if we are stuck with degrees F, we have to convert this to degrees Rankine, *then* multiply it by six.

When I teach my stats students about measurement scale, I use an example something like this to show them why you can't multiply interval-scale data (data for which zero isn't the absence of the property). Another example is if we measure people by "how much taller they are than the shortest person," Mr. 2 Inch is not twice as tall as Ms. 1 Inch. :)

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