Solar flares 10-20 times stronger than any seen from the Sun in modern times are likely possible, new research has found. Other recent research done with NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope has found numerous examples of stars very similar to the Sun that are capable of producing solar flares up to 10,000 times stronger than any yet observed from the Sun.
ScienceHeathen has more:
Back in 774-775 AD something caused a significant spike in the atmospheric carbon-14 levels observed in tree rings from that time period. Carbon-14 (14C) is a form of carbon that is created from high-energy radiation hitting the Earth’s upper atmosphere, where it converts nitrogen-14 into 14C. This is then taken up by plants through photosynthesis.
The 14C spike was discovered earlier this year in research being done on tree rings in Japanese cedars dating from 774–75. The researchers were unable to come up with an explanation for the 14C spike, all of the possible explanations seemed very unlikely.
But Adrian Melott, a physicist at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, and lead author of the new study, says “that the Japanese team made a miscalculation in ruling out one of these possibilities — a giant solar storm.”
According to Melott, the problem is that the previous researchers “treated solar storms as if they shone like light bulbs, radiating energy uniformly in all directions. But actually, they produce ‘blobs’ of energetic plasma that explode outwards unevenly. Adjusting for that, he says, reduces the size of the solar storm needed to produce the observed 14C spike from 1,000 times larger than anything known, to only 10–20 times larger — meaning that a giant solar storm is suddenly back on the table as a reasonable explanation.”
You can read more about that here.
If a solar flare as powerful as the 774–75 event occurred today it could cause great, and possibly irreversible, damage to modern civilization. It would be at least 60 times more powerful than the solar storm of “1989 that took almost all of Quebec off the grid for over nine hours and caused $3-6 billion dollars in damages. Multiply that by 60 and add two decades of increased technological vulnerability, and the effects might be disastrous. A lot of people could die,” Melott says. “You could have power out for months or longer — no refrigerated food, no food being transported to all the people who live in big cities.”
Image Credits: NASA/SDO