An electronics-frying Sun superflare may hit 'in next 100 years'

12 Juin, 2019, 20:23 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • An electronics-frying Sun superflare may hit 'in next 100 years'

"But we can now expect things such as large-scale blackouts, satellite communication failure, and strong radiation in space..." Scientists had assumed that superflares occurred mostly on stars that were young and active, our Sun doesn't fit into that category.

The data used in the study come from NASA's Kepler space telescope, which has searched the sky for distant planets.

Scientists from University of Colorado (CU) Boulder in the United States have found that superflares can occur on older, quieter stars like our own - albeit more rarely, or about once every few thousand years.

Roughly speaking, about 30 to 50 percent of superflares produced by the Sun can strike the Earth, Notsu said. An artist's depiction above of a superflare on an alien star.

Very young stars tend to have more hostile personalities, and superflares are incredibly common in systems with stars that aren't as mature as our sun.

The list of superflares was narrowed down to 43 main-sequence stars that are similar to our Sun, and the researchers analysed the superflare energy and the star's properties to estimate how frequently similar stars emit these types of explosions.

Now scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder are warning that our own sun is prone to the odd superflare eruption that could easily hit Earth - and in fact one may be long overdue.

"Our study shows that superflares are rare events", said Notsu, a researcher in CU Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. "But there is some possibility that we could experience such an event in the next 100 years or so".

The confirmation that slowly rotating, Sun-like stars can still throw out powerful superflares is surely intriguing, but it's also a bit nerve-wracking.

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The incredible instrument, which launched in 2009, observed rare instances of stars suddenly and briefly peaking in brightness. However, Sun-like stars were still seen producing hazardous superflares.

'For the Sun, it's once every few thousand years on average'.

"When our sun was young, it was very active because it rotated very fast and probably generated more powerful flares", said Notsu, also of the National Solar Observatory in Boulder.

Younger stars, Dr Notsu said, appear to eject superflares "once every week or so". "The fact that we've observed this incredibly low mass star, where the chromosphere should be nearly at its weakest, but we have a white-light flare occurring shows that strong magnetic activity can still persist down to this level".

The team of researchers employed data collected by the Gaia Spacecraft and the Apache Point Observatory in Mexico to verify their discoveries. The researchers then subjected those rare events to a rigorous statistical analysis.

Dr Notsu hopes that the warning might give humanity time to prepare by developing shielding to protect electronics on the ground and in orbit from these bursts of stellar radiation.

"If a superflare occurred 1,000 years ago, it was probably no big problem". "People may have seen a large aurora".

"Now, its a much bigger problem because of our electronics".

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