Amazed astronomers discovered massive stellar superflares that could swallow up Earth with one fiery gulp.
The incredible images of stars similar in size to the sun, reveals superflares up to 10,000 times more powerful than the coronal mass ejections the sun throws off during the peak of its 11 and 22 year cycles.
Flares can be dangerous to modern technology as they are made up of an electromagnetic plasma of charged particles. NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) issued warnings of an especially active solar cycle that could equal or surpass the largest flares ever recorded to hit Earth: the Carrington Event.
The CME that struck Earth September 1, 1859 was witnessed by chance a hours earlier by Richard Carrington, an English astronomer.
When the solar storm slammed into Earth, telegraph poles burst into flame and electrical generators overheated.
NASA and the ESA expect much worse during the balance of 2012 and into early 2013 when solar activity is peaking. Some scientists have referenced a even more unsettling solar storm that happened several decades after the Carrington Event.
Tibi Puiu of ZME Science wrote about it. He points out that what Carrington witnessed “paled [when] compared to the massive aurora borealis which extended as far as the tropic at the event! It must had been a massive sun flare indeed, but considering the first electrically light[ed] city was still at least 20 years away…the event didn’t affect the life of human society at the time.”
Of course, now would be an entirely different outcome as the fragile 21st technological infrastructure is at high risk.
The massive flares shot out by the stars were detected by the Kepler telescope, an orbiting space instrument used by astronomers around the world.
Utilizing the Kepler data, Kyoto University scientists analyzed the intensity of the flares and determined that some are so massive that they literally dwarf those produced in the solar system. The data revealed some of the flares are also so intense they would destroy the Earth’s ozone layer first, bathe the entire planet with killing radiation, sweep away the atmosphere, and finally incinerate the world with waves of superheated plasma…literally swallowing up and vaporizing Earth in a matter of minutes.
Lead study author, Hiroyuki Maehara, and his team found that all the stars spin at a rate much faster than the sun. That faster rotation energizes the flares making them much more intense and magnitudes more deadly.
After careful analysis of about 83,000 stars exhibiting characteristics similar to the sun, the Kyoto team determined roughly 0.2 percent—or 148 stars—experienced superflares. The range of the flares’ intensity in relation to the sun is about 10 to 10,000 times more poweerful than the 1859 event.
Jonathan Amos, the BBC science correspondent, reports that scientists have wondered about superflare events occurring with the sun in the past. They believe such an event would expose the surface of the planet to deadly radiation and trigger mass extinctions.
“There is a flip side to this, however,” Amos writes. “In some distant planetary systems, superflares might actually be life-enabling by providing sufficient energy in the atmospheres of these worlds to initiate the chemistry necessary for biology to get going.
The scientists published their study, “Superflares on solar-type stars,” in the journal Nature.