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

CATACLYSMIC Sun BELCH causes hour-long RADIO BLACKOUT in SPAAACE
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CATACLYSMIC Sun BELCH causes hour-long RADIO BLACKOUT in SPAAACE READ MORE

A new study discovered that stars which are older than our sun are capable of producing superflares, which are intense bursts of energy able to travel across hundreds of light-years.

Scientists have a relatively solid understanding of solar flares, and the ones we've seen from our own star have been pretty mild.

"When our sun was young, it was very active because it rotated very fast and probably generated more powerful flares", Notsu said.

It was previously thought that older stars like our Sun - a healthy 4.6 billion years old - didn't really have the power to eject superflares, however a group of eggheads led by the University of Colorado Boulder in the USA this week showed this isn't the case.

They found that while superflares occur much more frequently in young stars-about every week or so-older stars do produce them, albeit, on average, every few thousand years.

"Young stars have superflares once every week or so", said Yuta Notsu, first author of a paper discussing the findings, published in The Astrophysical Journal, and a boffin working in the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at UC Boulder. These solar flares have the potential to wipe out entire satellite networks, short out communications and disrupt power grids around the globe.

The new superflare data came from NASA's Kepler space telescope, which looked for planets at faraway stars between 2009 and 2018. Astronomers assumed that this meant stars like the Sun have either grown out of their superflare phase or that such events were so rare that it wasn't really worth worrying about.

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If the sun produced a superflare today, the star would emit vast amounts of high energy radiation which could wreak havoc with electronics across our planet.

That loose certainty is all we have for now, but it's imperative we try to refine our knowledge in the future - not just about the likelihood of a superflare emanating from the Sun, but also what might happen if it comes to pass. Over a series of studies, the group used those instruments to narrow down a list of superflares that had come from 43 stars that resembled our sun.

"If a superflare erupted from the sun".

To find out, Notsu and an worldwide team of researchers turned to data from the European Space Agency's Gaia spacecraft and from the Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico. But older stars like our sun, now a respectable 4.6 billion years old, aren't off the hook. But he said that it's a matter of when, not if.

'If a superflare occurred 1,000 years ago, it was probably no big problem, ' Dr Notsu said, explaining that people may have seen a large aurora as a result of the event.

To prepare ourselves for what may be an inevitable strike by a superflare, Notsu says we need to work on protecting our electronics by investing in radiation shielding and backup systems.

'Now, it's a much bigger problem because of our electronics, ' he added.

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