Astronomers report the brightest flash of light ever recorded from beyond the solar system. In just 0.2 second on Dec. 27, 2004, spacecraft detected a stellar outburst that radiated as much energy as the sun emits in 250,000 years.
But breaking a record wasn't the only reason that astronomers were beaming at a NASA press briefing last week. They may also have solved a mystery. By tracing the outburst to a magnetar, the rare type of star with the strongest magnetic field known, the scientists may be able to account for a puzzling group of extremely short-lived gamma-ray bursts from distant galaxies.
These bursts pack a greater intensity of the highest-energy gamma rays than do others, lasting more than 2 seconds, that have been identified as the likely birth cries of bl