Scientists say that “superflares” could threaten Earth one day

Shane McGlaun - Jun 12, 2019, 8:29 am CDT
Scientists say that “superflares” could threaten Earth one day

Astronomers have been looking at the edges of the Milky Way galaxy have seen some very intense superflares originating from stars. The exact reasons for a superflare aren’t understood, but superflares eject huge bursts of energy that can be seen from hundreds of light years away. Scientists had assumed that superflares occurred mostly on stars that were young and active, our Sun doesn’t fit into that category.

Research has now shown that superflares can happen on older stars like our Sun, but they are rare. The team estimates that calm stars like the Sun have superflares about every 1,000 years. CU Boulder scientist Yuta Notsu, the lead author of the study on superflares, says that if a superflare erupted on the Sun, Earth would likely sit in the path of the high-energy radiation released.

He notes that the radiation could disrupt electronics across the globe, causing widespread blackouts, and short out communications satellites in orbit. The study says that while superflares are rare, the Earth could experience such an event in the next 100 years or so. Scientists first spied superflares using the Kepler Space Telescope.

The spacecraft launched in 2009, and its goal was to seek out planets circling stars that are very far from Earth. Kepler found that in rare events, the light from these distant stars seemed to get suddenly, and momentarily brighter. Our Sun commonly has normal-sized flares.

What Kepler had discovered are flares said to be hundreds or thousands of times more powerful than the largest solar flare ever recorded on Earth using modern instruments. The team says that the age of the star matters with younger stars tending to produce the most superflares. But older stars like the Sun could have superflares every few thousand years on average while younger stars have superflares every week or so.

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