Saturday 29 April 2017

Solar 'superflare' could wipe out Earth's energy systems

An artists impression composite issued by the University of Warwick of the 'quiet' Sun, with no solar flares (left) and what the Sun might look like if it were to produce a
An artists impression composite issued by the University of Warwick of the 'quiet' Sun, with no solar flares (left) and what the Sun might look like if it were to produce a "superflare" (right).

John von Radowitz

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".

Irish Independent

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