NASA's SWIFT Satellite Detects Massive Superflare Coming From A Tiny Star
A binary system of red dwarf stars known as DG Canum Venaticorum, or DG CVn, has shocked astronomers after NASA's Swift satellite witnessed one of them emitting a series of record breaking solar flares. The flare activity lasted for around two weeks and started with an initial blast that has been confirmed as being the longest, hottest and most powerful solar flare ever recorded. The first of seven solar flares to be recorded over this two week period emitted a blast that was over 10,000 times more powerful than the strongest solar flare on record, and astronomers have admitted they had no idea these two tiny stars were capable of such a monumental event.
"This system is poorly studied because it wasn't on our watch list of stars capable of producing large flares," said Rachel Osten, an astronomer with the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. "We had no idea DG CVn had this in it."
Each star in the DG CVn binary system is roughly two thirds the size and mass of our sun, and due to the close proximity with which they orbit each other, Swift wasn't able to confirm exactly which star emitted the blasts. However, one thing Swift was able to detect was the frightening power contained within the flares. At its strongest level, the largest of the solar flares registered temperatures of around 360 million degrees Fahrenheit...that's more than 12 times hotter than the temperature found at the very center of our sun.
To put this all into perspective, it's best to use the same measures with which our sun's solar flares are graded. The strongest solar flare ever to be recorded coming from our sun was classed as an X45 event back in 2003, but the majority are far weaker, normally coming in at the X1 level or even lower (A,B,C, or M class flares are not considered significant). But as NASA's Stephen Drake explains, "The flare on DG CVn, if viewed from a planet the same distance as Earth is from the sun, would have been roughly 10,000 times greater than this, with a rating of about X 100,000."
There's nothing to worry about, though. DG CVn is a far younger system than our own sun, and that means it is rotating at a high speed which is in turn fuelling this significant level of activity. Our own sun on the other hand is far older - 4.6 billion years compared to 30 million years - it's rotating slower and is therefore less volatile. But that's not to say this activity isn't of significant interest to us here on Earth. Red Dwarf stars are thought to have a high likelihood of possessing Super Earth exoplanets within their habitable zone. Such planets would be ideal candidates for playing host liquid water, but orbiting so close to a star that has the ability to punch out an X 100,000 class solar flare, and as Rachel Osten says, "If you happened to be on a planet around an M-Dwarf when one of these large flares went off....you'd be having a very bad day."