Enter Astropro!  Please click here to visit this Astropro sponsor's website!
Toward an Astrology of Magnetars
©1998-1999 by Richard Nolle

Horoscope for the 10:22 UT AUG 27, 1998 SGR 1900+14 flareEarth - or half of it, any rate - got blasted at 10:22 UT on August 27, 1998.1 During the following five minutes, our home planet was on the receiving end of a cosmic ray barrage (of gamma-rays, X-rays and radio waves) so intense that it ionized Earth's upper atmosphere to levels normally seen only during the daytime. Researchers at Stanford University who measured the ionization described it as "the first direct evidence of a physical effect on the Earth's environment by a distant star, or by any star other than our own Sun."2

The blast came from SGR 1900+14, a newly recognized type of star called a magnetar, in the constellation Aquila (the Eagle). At its source, the phenomenal five-minute cosmic ray surge was the energy equivalent of our Sun's entire output for the next 300 years, according to UC Berkeley physicist Kevin Hurley.3 Fortunately for us, SGR 1900+14 is so far away that it took the surge of cosmic radiation over 20,000 years just to reach us. Our distance from the source of the blast was one major protective factor. Another is that Earth's upper atmosphere absorbed the lion's share of the interstellar burst. By the time it reached ground level, the intensity of that flare had been reduced to the point that anyone on the receiving end only got the equivalent of a normal dental X-ray. (Two satellites in Earth orbit, outside the protective blanket of our atmosphere, were overwhelmed by the blast. They went into automatic shutdown to preserve their shielded electronics from destruction by the onslaught of cosmic radiation.)

SGR 1900+14SGR 1900+14 is a telling nomenclature, if you know how to read the astronomical code. SGR stands for Soft Gamma-ray Repeater, and 1900+14 is the magnetar's location on the celestial sphere in Right Ascension (19h 00m) and declination (14 degrees north). In the zodiacal parlance more familiar to astrologers, this equates to 18o12' Capricorn at an ecliptic latitude of 36oN30'. SGR is a bit of a misnomer, according to magnetar co-discoverer Robert Duncan: "In fact, most SGR photons are really high-energy or 'hard' X-rays - not gamma rays at all! A more descriptive name would thus be 'hard X-ray flashers'."4 SGRs also emit radio waves, in addition to gamma- and X-rays.

Epicenter of the AUG 27, 1998 SGR 1900+14 flareMagnetar SGR 1900+14 was over the western North Pacific Ocean when its blast hit Earth. To be more precise, the burst was directly overhead at about 154E10, 14N00 - roughly halfway between Guam and Wake Island. Everyone in the terrestrial hemisphere centered on that point - including East and Southeast Asia, all of Australia and most of Alaska - got the equivalent of a dental X-ray that night, courtesy of SGR 1900+14. That's not much for a human, but it's a lot for a microbe. Given that X-rays are mutagenic, don't be surprised if the 1999-2000 edition of the Asian flu is a real viral blitzkrieg. (Gazing at the Saturn-Mars square in effect as the cosmic ray front hit - part of a Grand Cross involving Uranus, Neptune and the Moon - I rather suspect a new strain of streptococcus will soon rear its ugly head as well.) Had the magnetar been closer to Earth, the X-ray dose could have been lethal to everyone not living in a lead mine at the time. Magnetars may in fact be agents of evolutionary change here on Earth - of mass extinction, even.5

If it seems peculiar that a cosmic ray blast could reach Earth from a star over 20,000 light years away, consider the source. Magnetars are most peculiar stars, according to current astrophysical theory. They're born in a supernova, the explosion of a massive star. (All five currently known magnetars are located in or near what are called SNRs - SuperNova Remnants.) The stellar core that remains after the supernova blows off the bulk of the star is a neutron star, composed mostly of neutrons (with a trace mixture of protons and electrons). This neutron brew is so compressed by the force of gravity that a single cup of the stuff would weigh as much as a mile-high mountain on Earth. The whole neutron star can be more massive than our Sun, yet is less than 20 kilometers (about 12 miles) in diameter. And the surface of the neutron star is peculiar too: it's a half-mile thick crust of iron. The whole strange star glows brightly in the X-ray spectrum, due to the immense heat trapped within it.

All magnetars are neutron stars, but not all neutron stars are magnetars. If a neutron star is born rotating fast enough, it creates a monstrously powerful magnetic dynamo (1014 - 1015 Gauss, a thousand trillion times stronger than Earth's magnetic field). This super-strong magnetic field quickly slows down the star's rotation. Then it goes to work on the body of the star, deforming and cracking the iron crust to create 'starquakes' (analogous to earthquakes on our home planet). These starquakes drive magnetic waves outward, energizing clouds of particles surrounding the magnetar to produce a burst of radiation - thus giving rise to a normal SGR burst, which can produce as much energy in a second as our Sun does in a whole year. Normal SGR bursts, strong as they are, are not at all uncommon. SGR 1900+14 emitted over 50 of them in the last week of May 1998 alone.

Occasionally the magnetar's immensely powerful magnetic field destabilizes, giving rise to a magnetic flare analogous to the solar flares produced by our own Sun. Such a magnetic flare produces a rare super SGR burst of radiation, far stronger than the normal bursts from these peculiar stars. Astronomers now believe that it was just such a super-burst from SGR 1900+14 that hit Earth on August 27, 1998. An even stronger one - "the most intense blast of gamma rays ever detected from outside our solar system"6 - reached our home planet at 15:51 UT on March 5, 1979. It originated in SGR 0526-66, associated with a supernova remnant (SNR N49) in the Large Magellanic Cloud (the LMC, 180,000 light-years from Earth), and it was a blast of truly cosmic proportions. "In the first two-tenths of a second," calculates Duncan, "the burster radiated away as much energy as the Sun radiates in 1000 years . . . at its peak the burster was shining about 10 times brighter than all the stars in our galaxy put together."7

No one knows for sure how many magnetars there are in our galaxy. Most of them are undetectable, because magnetars have a short lifespan. Some 10,000 years after one of these spectacular bursters is born in the aftermath of a supernova, its magnetic energy begins running down. As this happens, it ceases bursting, grows cold and dark, and dies out. Duncan estimates there are at least a million (and perhaps as many as 100 million)8 of these slowly rotating dark iron stars drifting through the Milky Way . . .

There are now five known and several more suspected magnetars, and there are certainly a great many more yet undiscovered. In the suspect category are AXPs - Anomalous X-ray Pulsars - which appear to be magnetars that have yet to be observed emitting the characteristic SGR burst. (The technology to detect such stellar eruptions is now only 30 years old.) These could be magnetars in which the magnetic dynamo has run down, but with enough heat remaining in their cores to generate X-rays. Given their amply demonstrated capacity to affect Earth from truly cosmic distances, these wonderfully weird stars could prove to be a new frontier not only for astrophysics, but for astrology as well. To that end, here's a table with zodiacal coordinates (tropical zodiac, J2000 ecliptic) and a thumbnail sketch of the five currently known SGR magnetars. (Check your charts!)

Designation Long. Lat. Notes
SGR 0526-66 05 ARI 24 86 S 32 in LMC, monster flare MAR 5 1979
SGR 1627-41 11 SAG 38 19 S 02 discovered JUN 15 1998, 26 bursts to date
SGR 1806-20 01 CAP 56 43 N 26 1st SGR burst ever detected (JAN 7 1979)
SGR 1815-13 03 CAP 43 10 N 23 discovered 1997, three bursts that year
SGR 1900+14 18 CAP 12 36 N 30 in Aquila, last major flare AUG 27 1998



1Gamma Ray Flare Observed with the HAIL Array Stanford University Press Release.
3Earth Bombarded by Gamma Ray Burst CNN Interactive.
4Duncan, Robert. Magnetars, Soft Gamma Ray Repeaters & Very Strong Magnetic Fields
5When it dawned on me that radiation from a not-so-distant magnetar could cause not only mutations in terrestrial life forms, but even mass extinctions, I hadn't seen the idea in any of the magnetar literature. So I ran the idea past Dr. Duncan. His reply: "Yes, I expect that magnetars probably did have a bad effect on life sometime in the past, perhaps even causing extinctions. They may have also caused significant mutations. Magnetar flares could destroy the ozone layer, making life on earth vulnerable to UV rays from the Sun."
6Duncan, Robert. Magnetars, Soft Gamma Ray Repeaters & Very Strong Magnetic Fields


See the Magnetars heading in the Astronomy Section of Astropro's NetSelect Directory
Enter Astropro! Richard Nolle, Certified Professional Astrologer
phone or fax 480-753-6261 - email rnolle@astropro.com
Box 26599 - Tempe, AZ 85285-6599 - USA
on the World Wide Web at http://www.astropro.com

Go to top of page! email the astrologer!