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Powerful superflies can pose a threat to the earth

Astronomers have learned in the past decade that even large sunspots – powerful radiation rays – from our Sun are actually small potatoes compared to some of the spots we see around other stars. It is now common to discover "superflares" hundreds to thousands of times more powerful than the sun's spots from stars hundreds of light-years away. Earlier this year, researchers even identified a star that released a turbocharged flare about 10 billion times more energetic than those that normally blew off the sun.

These superflies are observed mainly in young active stars. But new research was presented on Monday at the American Astronomical Society's 234th meeting in St. Louis shows that even our middle-aged relatively little Sun can produce some amazingly powerful spots ̵
1; albeit only once in two to two millennia. The work was also published on May 3 in The Astrophysical Journal .
"Young stars have superflies once a week or so," said the study's lead author, Yuta Notsu of the University of Colorado Boulder, in a press release. "For the sun it is once on average a few thousand years."

About 30-50 percent of the superflar produced by the sun can beat the earth, Nonsu said. This means that we can expect a superflare about 100 times larger than normal to beat the earth around once every 10,000 years or so.

And we could be late. "Our study shows that superflares are rare events," Notsu said. "But there is a possibility that we may experience such an event over the next 100 years or so."

Sizing superflares

To carry out the survey, Notsu and his team struck out data from the Kepler space telescope, which spent the last decade following planets by monitoring how the stars change in brightness over time. The work from a selection of about 90,000 sun-like stars identified the researchers more than 1000 superflies from about 300 stars.

First, they thought that these stars would rotate quickly. This is because fast spinning stars tend to have strong magnetic fields that can be easily hung up, which is supposed to kick off spots. But a quick spin is apparently not a requirement for strong outbreaks. By enhancing their brightness data with size estimates from the Gaia satellite, researchers were able to determine how quickly their flaring stars were spinning. They found that, as expected, stars that rotate once every day had superflies about 20 times as powerful as slower spinning stars like the sun, rotating about once every 25 days. But Sun-like stars were still perceived as dangerous superfaders.

NASA captured a solar flare on April 17, 2016 in 4K quality.

NASA Goddard

Staple yourself

The confirmation that slowly rotating, sun-like stars can still throw out powerful superflares is surely exciting, but it is also a little nervous.
"When our Sun was young, it was very active because it rotated very quickly and probably generated more powerful spots," Notsu said. "But we did not know if such large flares appear on the very low frequency modern sun."

However, there is a historical reference point. In September 1859, a sun flame sent a wave of charged particles washed over our planet. It triggered one of the most powerful geomagnetic storms ever recorded: the Carrington Event. When the particles hit the earth's protective magnetic field, they triggered beautiful auroras that stretched as far south as Hawaii and Cuba. But Carrington Event not only produced beautiful light in the sky. It also caused chaos on telegraph networks spread across North America and Europe. In fact, there are reports of the cosmically overcharged telegraph lines that are starting to fire and shocking telegraph operators during the event.

If a moderate spot that the Carrington event disturbed electronic systems in the mid-1800s, what would a superflare do 100 times stronger today?

"If a superflare occurred 1000 years ago, it probably wasn't a big problem. People may have seen a big aurora," said Notsu. "Now, it's a much bigger problem because of our electronics."

How the big problem will be is not yet determined. "More accurate evaluations of the effects of superflaires is a next urgent task," Notsu told Astronomy "but we can now expect things like large-scale blackouts, satellite communication errors and strong radiation in space, "That can do serious damage to instruments and astronauts.

To prepare for what may be an inevitable strike with a superflare, Notsu says we must work to protect our electronics by investing in radiation protection and backup systems.

"This topic should [start to be considered] seriously from now on," emphasizes Notsu.

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