The sun could unleash huge superflares that would destroy much of the things we rely on for life on Earth, scientists have warned.
Huge flares of energy with the power of a billion one megaton nuclear bombs could destroy our communication and energy systems, they have said.
Scientists made the warning after seeing a huge superflare erupt from another star that looks alarmingly like our own Sun.
Occasionally, flares and other solar weather upset communications systems on Earth. But the effects are usually relatively limited, and can be recovered from. But the new study suggests that any potential superflare could cause
Flares happen when magnetic energy that has built up in the solar atmosphere is suddenly released, causing a massive outburst of radiation.
The most surprising facts about the sun
The most surprising facts about the sun
1/8 An Extreme Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope (EIT) image of a huge, handle-shaped prominence
The sun makes up 99.8 per cent of the mass of the entire solar system. The sun’s core, although it only makes up around 2 percent of the sun's volume, holds nearly half of its mass
NASA/European Space Agency
2/8 The quiet corona and upper transition region of the Sun.
The sun is travelling at 220 kilometres per second. It takes the 225-250 million years to complete an orbit of the centre of the Milky Way
3/8 Bright, glowing arcs of gas flow around sunspots
The sun’s magnetic fields generate solar wind - streams of charged particles, which travel through the solar system at 450 kilometres per second. The winds cause radio interference, the northern lights and tails on comets, as well as alter the trajectory of space crafts
Goddard Space Flight Center
4/8 A huge X-class solar flare burst from a large, active sunspot
As the sun has no solid body - it is made up of 92.1 percent hydrogen and 7.8 percent helium - different parts of the sun rotate at different rates. At the equator, the sun spins once about every 25 days, but at its poles the sun rotates once on its axis every 36 Earth days
5/8 Hot coronal loops which span 30 or more times the diameter of planet Earth extend above the visible surface of the Sun
One day, the sun will be about the size of Earth. After its red giant phase - when the sun would have expanded, consuming Mercury, Venus and Earth - the sun will collapse, retaining its enormous mass, but shrinking to the approximate volume of our planet to become a white dwarf. It is currently categorised as a yellow dwarf and at 4.5 billion years old is currently middle aged
6/8 A full-disk multiwavelength extreme ultraviolet image of the sun. False colors trace different gas temperatures
A complex internal mechanism about which little is known causes the reverse in polarity
7/8 The size of the Earth in comparison to the sun
With a circumference of 2,715,395.6 miles, one million Earths could fit inside the sun. | 8. The temperature at the sun's core is about 15 million °C while its surface temperature is 5500 °C
8/8 Combined ultra violet images of different temperatures of the sun
Sunspots - visible dark patches that appear on the sun’s surface - are temporary phenomena whereby intense magnetic activity form areas of reduced surface temperature. | 10. Solar flares shoot out from the sun’s surface during when magnetic energy is released by the during magnetic storms. They are the most violent eruptions in the solar system
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."
The superflare studied by the team occurred on the binary star KIC9655129.
Using data from the American space agency Nasa's Kepler space telescope, the scientists determined that it had wave properties identical to those seen in solar flares.
Co-author Dr Anne-Marie Broomhall, also from the University of Warwick, said: "This result is ... an indication that the same physical processes are involved in both solar flares and stellar superflares. The latter finding supports the hypothesis that the Sun is able to produce a potentially devastating superflare."
The research is reported in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
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