Recently, a star in the Milky Way flashed in a superflare, making researchers think whether our Sun could generate a superflare as well.
The superflare – an extremely strong explosion seen on solar-like stars – was spotted by the researchers on a star that resembles our Sun. Because of all the similarities between the two stars, they suggested that our Sun may also produce a massive solar flare that could be catastrophic for life on Earth.
In their paper – published in The Astrophysical Journal – the researchers noted that the properties of the Sun’s smaller solar flares are similar to the superflare on the binary star known as KIC 9655129 that was spotted by NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope.
The energy released by solar flares is usually the equivalent of 100 million megaton bombs. That being said, the energy released by a superflare would be far more powerful: around 100 billion megaton bombs.
Study lead author Chloë Pugh, a PhD Astrophysicist at the University of Warwick’s Centre for Fusion, Space and Astrophysics, said that a potential superflare produced by the Sun would have devastating effects on life on Earth. There would also be severe disruptions of our radio communication systems and our GPS (Global Positioning System). Strong electrical currents entering the power grids could lead to large scale power blackouts worldwide, Pugh said.
Luckly – based on observations of solar activity – it is very unlikely that the conditions needed for a superflare will ever occur on the Sun, according to Pugh.
As a result of solar eruptions (including solar flares) and of the solar winds, both originating from the Sun, our solar system is filled with plasma which consists of mostly protons, electrons, and alpha particles, Ms. Pugh said.
To better understand whether our Sun could produce devastating a superflare, much like other stars that are particularly similar to the Sun, researchers have to see if both solar flares and stellar superflares are caused by the same process, Pugh explained.
Solar flares appear as sudden flash of brightness near the Sun’s surface. Coronal mass ejections (CME) – massive burst of gas and magnetic field – which are often times associated solar flares can also occur along with the solar flare.
Charged particles from the coronal mass ejection get through the corona of the Sun into space, and they usually reach Earth a day or two after the event. When they interact with Earth’s magnetic field they knock out power grids, radio communications, and GPS signals.
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