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Extremely Powerful Sun 'Superflares' Could Disrupt Electronics Across the Globe

Extremely Powerful Sun 'Superflares' Could Disrupt Electronics Across the Globe

This is the terrifying prediction of astronomers probing the edges of the Milky Way for superflares - an explosive burst of energy from a star that can be seen from hundreds of light years away.

Scientists had assumed that superflares occurred mostly on stars that were young and active, our Sun doesn't fit into that category.

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 U.S. this week showed this isn't the case. However, the new work's lead author, Yuta Notsu - a visiting researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder - said this possibility should inspire everyone to beef up electronics against radiation. These solar flares have the potential to wipe out entire satellite networks, short out communications and disrupt power grids around the globe. "Our study shows that superflares are rare events".

Scientists first discovered this phenomenon from an unlikely source: the Kepler Space Telescope.

The spacecraft launched in 2009, and its goal was to seek out planets circling stars that are very far from Earth.

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. The superflare would be hundreds or thousands of times more powerful than the most active solar flares recorded.

The study revealed that older stars like our Sun can still produce superflares as well. But older stars like the Sun could have superflares every few thousand years on average while younger stars have superflares every week or so.

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"Young stars have superflares once every week or so". They found that, as expected, stars that rotate once every few days had superflares about 20 times as powerful as more slowly spinning stars like the Sun, which rotates about once every 25 days.

"If a superflare erupted from the sun". However, older stars like the Sun - which is 4.6 billion years old - also produce them occassionally.

"But we didn't know if such large flares occur on the modern sun with very low frequency", he said. "People may have seen a large aurora", Notsu said in a statement, referring to the dancing Northern Lights or Southern Lights produced by solar particles interacting with molecules of Earth's atmosphere.

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

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.

Co-authors on the recent study include researchers from Kyoto University, the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, University of Hyogo, University of Washington and Leiden University.