Scientists just realized our sun could potentially produce a catastrophic 'superflare'

Contributed by
Dec 3, 2015

We’re getting better at tracking and predicting solar flares, but scientists now believe our sun is capable of a “superflare” that would be a whole lot bigger than the flame-ups we’re used to seeing.

The team has been studying “superflares” (which are basically solar flares 1,000 times more powerful that what we typically see in our solar system) in the KIC 9655129 galaxy. That research has led them to realize our own sun could potentially do the same thing — though it would require some very specific and rare conditions.

Though a superflare wouldn’t fry the planet or anything quite that bad, it would still be disastrous. Virtually all GPS and radio communication systems would be disrupted, and the effects would almost certainly cause large-scale power blackouts due to the strong electrical currents being induced in power grids.

Here’s how the paper’s lead researcher, Chloë Pugh from the University of Warwick’s Centre for Fusion, Space and Astrophysics, explains it:

“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."

But, though a superflare technically could happen, Pugh notes it’s not really that likely (phew!). She went on to explain that the conditions needed for a superflare are “extremely unlikely” to occur in our sun, based on a study of previous solar activity. But it technically could happen.

So, don’t worry. But, yeah, maybe worry a little bit.

Check out an artist's rendering of a superflare below, in case you need something to haunt your space-geek dreams:


(Via Warwick, Popular Science)

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