Solar 'superflare' could wipe out Earth's energy systems
Published 03/12/2015 | 02:30
A "superflare" unleashed by the Sun could release energy equivalent to a billion one-megaton nuclear bombs and threaten all the Earth's communications and energy systems, scientists have warned.
The danger became apparent when astronomers observed a superflare on a star with alarmingly similar characteristics to ordinary solar flares.
Because the underlying physics of both appear the same, it suggests that the Sun could potentially produce a superflare 1,000 times more powerful than any flare previously reported.
Flares happen when magnetic energy that has built up in the solar atmosphere is suddenly released, causing a massive outburst of radiation.
Lead scientist Chloe Pugh, from the University of Warwick, said: "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."
She added: "Fortunately, the conditions needed for a superflare are extremely unlikely to occur on the Sun, based on previous observations of solar activity."
Co-author Dr Anne-Marie Broomhall said the study's finding "supports the hypothesis that the Sun is able to produce a potentially devastating superflare".