Superflares are monstrous bursts of charged particles, solar energy and cosmic radiation from the surface of a star. These solar flares have the potential to wipe out entire satellite networks, short out communications and disrupt power grids around the globe. Superflares on this scale are an incredibly rare event, occurring once every few thousand years. However, a team of astronomers in the US has shockingly announced our own Sun could unleash one of these flares before the end of next century.
Until recently, astronomers believed superflares were only produced by young and active stars spewing energy.
But researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder) in the US fear older and quieter stars like our Sun can produce these blasts.
The shocking revelation, according to one of the researchers, is a “wake up call” for everyone on the planet.
Astronomer Yuta Notsu, who lead a study into the dangers of superflares, will present the news at the 234th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in St Louis, Missouri, between June 9 and June 13.
According to the space expert, the likelihood of Earth sitting in the path of one of these superflares is high.
When this happens, the superflare will cripple technology up and down the planet, causing widespread blackouts.
Dr Notsu, a visiting researcher at CU Boulder, said: “Our study shows that superflares are rare events.
“But there is some possibility that we could experience such an event in the next 100 years or so.”
Astronomers first observed signs of these powerful superflares thanks to NASA’s now-retired Kepler space telescope.
The incredible instrument, which launched in 2009, observed rare instances of stars suddenly and briefly peaking in brightness.
These intense peaks were superflares erupting from their respective stars.
Dr Notsu said: “When our Sun was young, it was very active because it rotated very fast and probably generated more powerful flares.
“But we didn’t know if such large flares occur on the modern Sun with very low frequency.”
The age of a star is crucial in determining the frequency of a star’s superflares.
Younger stars, Dr Notsu said, appear to eject superflares “once every week or so”.
Older stars like our Sun do so “once every few thousand years on average”.
There is, however, no real guarantee when the next superflare will cripple the Earth.
Dr Notsu said: “If a superflare occurred 1,000 years ago, it was probably no big problem. People may have seen a large aurora.
“Now, its a much bigger problem because of our electronics.”
The dire study was published last May in the journal The Astrophysical Journal.