Americans concerned about solar flares and the domino effect a power grid-down scenario would spark have been — once again — vindicated. A new study from the University of Warwick in England revealed that not only are solar flares dangerous but that “superflares” – 1,000 times greater than traditional solar flares — are a distinct and globally destructive possibility.
The new study “supports the hypothesis that the sun is able to produce a potentially devastating superflare,” that would destroy the world’s power grid, said study co-author Anne-Marie Broomhall of the University of Warwick.
The team used data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope to study binary star KIC9655129, which is 1,500 light years from Earth. That star and its flares have similarities to our sun and its own flares. They discovered that the binary star emits superflares previously undetected – and ones that scientists say our own sun could produce.
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“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,” researcher Chloë Pugh said.
A superflare would produce energy equivalent to 100 billion megaton bombs, the research showed.
It would be far more powerful than the flare that caused the 1859 Carrington Event, in which a solar storm took out the most advanced technology of the day – telegraphs – and spawned Northern Lights as far south as Cuba and Hawaii. The lights were so bright that some people woke up, thinking it was morning. If such a storm hit Earth today, it would be devastating.
Pugh explained the study by noting the “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,” she said.
Pugh continued: “Solar flares are commonly observed to consist of a series of regularly occurring pulses. Often these pulsations resemble waves, with a wavelength that relates to various properties of the region of the Sun that is producing the flare. The study of waves such as these is referred to as coronal seismology. Occasionally solar flares contain multiple waves superimposed on top of one another, which can easily be explained by coronal seismology. We have found evidence for multiple waves, or multiple periodicities, in a stellar superflare, and the properties of these waves are consistent with those that occur in solar flares.”
The research was published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
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