Ready your doomsday shelters — the apocalypse is nigh! Well, at least theoretically possible, but that’s enough to send a chill down the spine. In this unlikely, yet still probable, scenario, a superflare emitted by the sun could send humankind back into the Stone Age.
To understand just how massive and devastating a superflare from the sun could be, here’s this comparison, according to the Christian Science Monitor. A regular old solar flare releases as much energy as 100 million megaton bombs, whereas a superflare releases the energy of 100 billion megaton bombs. That’s billion.
Scientists came to this frightening conclusion by studying a distant star. They learned that while the superflare produced by a binary star called KIC 9655129, located in our galaxy about 1,500 light years away, is much bigger than any our sun has created, the physics behind both are the same, Popular Science reported.
So if the conditions were just right, it could produce a superflare that would be absolutely devastating to life on Earth — perhaps even worse than a zombie apocalypse. But the operative phrase there is “if the conditions were just right.” It’s unlikely that they ever will be, said the lead author of the chilling paper on the subject, Chloë Pugh.
“[T]he conditions needed for a superflare are extremely unlikely to occur on the Sun, based on previous observations of solar activity.”
The flare from that binary star was observed by the Kepler space telescope, which took a brief break from its planet-hunting duties to seek out the star’s superflare, Discovery added. This telescope is sensitive enough to find tiny fluctuations in the glow coming from stars.
Flares from our own sun emit multiple waves, “superimposed on top of one another,” Pugh explained. The Kepler witnessed similar waves coming from the binary star, and “the properties of these waves are consistent with those that occur in solar flares.”
She said that in order for science to determine whether or not our star is capable of a 100 billion megaton bomb style superflare, we’d need to confirm “whether the same physical processes are responsible for both stellar superflares and solar flares.”
And that’s what scientists may have found — key parallels between both devastating events. They theorize that both flares — the tiny solar flares and the enormous superflare — are driven by the same physics: occasional fluctuations of magnetically-charged plasma located inside the star.
So the sun could, in theory, produce a superflare that would be devastating to life on Earth.
The everyday solar flares produced by our sun are often accompanied by coronal mass ejections — or the explosion of super-heated plasma into space — and these cause the most damage when the charged particles released by these eruptions clash with our planet’s magnetic field.
A strong solar flare from the sun is enough to cause radio blackouts, and powerful CMEs cause geomagnetic storms that would abruptly cut off our power. A superflare would be even worse, Pugh explained.
“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.”
But there’s a bright spot — any superflare our sun may produce, or just a particularly large normal one, could be forecast by the observational equipment that we use to keep track of solar weather And the White House is working on an action plan to prepare for one, noted Tech Insider.
[Photo by NASA/Getty Images]