The Sun Could Release "Superflares" with the Power of a Billion Megaton Bombs

Thursday, 03 December 2015 - 10:59AM
Astrophysics
Sun
Thursday, 03 December 2015 - 10:59AM
The Sun Could Release "Superflares" with the Power of a Billion Megaton Bombs
The sun regularly produces flares, or sudden releases of energy that have the energy of up to 100 million megaton bombs. But according to new research, the underlying physics is the same for a so-called "superflare," a solar flare that releases the energy of one billion megaton bombs. As a result, it's likely that the Sun is capable of producing superflares, which could potentially knock out all of Earth's electronics and communication systems.

Superflares are 1,000 times more powerful than regularly recorded solar flares, and have been observed on many stars that are similar to our Sun. For this study, researchers from the University of Warwick examined whether the same physical processes are responsible for superflares and solar flares.

Solar flares often consist of a series of periodic pulses, resembling waves. The researchers found that stellar superflares also consist of multiple waves that occur on a regular basis, or periodicities. Examining evidence from the Kepler Space telescope they found evidence of not one, but two periodicities in a stellar superflare emanating from KIC9655129, with less than a 1% probability that they would be observed by chance. As a result, it is likely that the Sun is capable of producing superflares. 

Opening quote
"The most plausible explanation for the presence of two independent periodicities is that the QPPs were caused by magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) oscillations, which are frequently observed in solar flares. This result is, therefore, an indication that the same physical processes are involved in both solar flares and stellar superflares. The latter finding supports the hypothesis that the Sun is able to produce a potentially devastating superflare."
Closing quote

Luckily, the researchers claim that the solar conditions observed recently make it very unlikely that this will occur. But if the Sun did produce a superflare in the future, it could have devastating consequences for life on Earth. 

Opening quote
"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."
Closing quote

Via Phys.org.
Science
Space
Astrophysics
Sun

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