Our Sun has the potential to produce a catastrophic solar flare, known as a "superflare," that could be devastating to life on Earth, according recent findings made by astronomers using NASA’s Kepler space telescope.
Superflares are thousands of times more powerful than those ever recorded on the Sun, and are frequently observed on some stars. 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 100 billion megaton bombs.
Researchers at the University of Warwick in England have found a stellar superflare on KIC9655129, a binary star observed by NASA’s Kepler space telescope, with wave patterns similar to those that have been observed in solar flares from our own Sun. Researchers suggest that 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.
“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," said Chloë Pugh from the University of Warwick’s Centre for Fusion, Space and Astrophysics. “Fortunately the conditions needed for a superflare are extremely unlikely to occur on the Sun, based on previous observations of solar activity.”
“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. Stars very similar to the Sun have been observed to produce enormous flares, called superflares. 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."
Image Credit: NASA/SDO