Sun Can Produce 'Superflares' That May Disrupt Life on Earth

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Sun Can Produce 'Superflares' That May Disrupt Life on Earth

Sun has the potential to produce superflares, with energy equivalent to a billion megaton bombs, which may severely disrupt power grids and communication systems on the Earth, a new study has found.

Led by the University of Warwick in the UK, researchers have found a stellar superflare on a star observed by NASA’s Kepler space telescope with wave patterns similar to those that have been observed in solar flares.

Superflares are thousands of times more powerful than those ever recorded on the Sun, and are frequently observed on some stars.

Found in the Milky Way, the binary star, KIC9655129, is known to produce superflare. Researchers suggest due to the similarities between the superflare on KIC9655129 and the Sun’s solar flares, the underlying physics of the flares might be the same, supporting the idea that our Sun could also produce a superflare.

Typical solar flares can have energies equivalent to a 100 million megaton bombs, but a superflare on the Sun could release energy equivalent to a billion megaton bombs.

If the Sun were to produce superflares, the Earth’s communications and energy systems could be at serious risk of failing.

“Our solar system is filled with plasma, or ionised gas, originating from the Sun as a result of the solar wind and other more violent solar eruptions, such as solar flares,” said lead researcher, Chloe Pugh from the University of Warwick’s Centre for Fusion, Space and Astrophysics.

“Stars very similar to the Sun have been observed to produce enormous flares, called superflares,” Pugh said.

“To give us a better indication of whether the Sun could produce a catastrophic superflare, we need to determine whether the same physical processes are responsible for both stellar superflares and solar flares,” she said.

Solar flares are commonly observed to consist of a series of regularly occurring pulses, Pugh said.

Often these pulsations resemble waves, with a wavelength that relates to various properties of the region of the Sun that is producing the flare.

Occasionally solar flares contain multiple waves superimposed on top of one another, which can easily be explained by coronal seismology. “We have found evidence for multiple waves, or multiple periodicities, in a stellar superflare, and the properties of these waves are consistent with those that occur in solar flares,” Pugh said.

“If the Sun were to produce a superflare it would be disastrous for life on Earth; our GPS and radio communication systems could be severely disrupted and there could be large scale power blackouts as a result of strong electrical currents being induced in power grids,” she said.

“Fortunately the conditions needed for a superflare are extremely unlikely to occur on the Sun, based on previous observations of solar activity,” she added.

The study was published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.