Researchers have determined that it is possible that the Sun could create a superflare that could threaten electronics, the atmosphere and even life on Earth.
We certainly did not expect to find superflare stars with magnetic fields as weak as the magnetic fields on the Sun. This opens the possibility that the Sun could generate a superflare — a very frightening thought.
Actually, the sun did create a small superflare in AD 775, as evidenced from geological archives.
On Earth, we are more familiar with solar flares, the hot plasma released when built-up magnetic and radioactive energy in the Sun’s atmosphere is released. When these flares collide with the Earth’s magnetic field, they cause colorful auroras. They can also disrupt communications and power supplies.
Karoff writes about superflares,
Superflares are explosive events on stellar surfaces one to six orders-of-the-magnitude larger than the largest flares observed on the sun throughout the space age. Due to the huge amount of energy released in these superflares, it has been speculated if the underlying mechanism is the same as for solar flares.
Thanks to the new, advanced Guo Shou Jing (LAMOST) telescope in China, the researchers were able to evaluate how often a star with a magnetic field similar to the Sun could experience a superflare. It was discovered that a small superflare occurs every millennium. The study also supports the idea that a solar flare 10-100 times bigger than the largest solar eruption observed during the space age occurred. Karoff and his team observed the magnetic fields on the surface of almost 100,000 stars, the number of stars the telescope makes possible to view in a few weeks. It showed that superflares are likely formed using the same mechanism as solar flares.
Karoff and his team writes,
These observations show that superflare stars are generally characterized by larger chromospheric emissions than other stars, including the sun. However, superflare stars with activity levels lower than, or comparable to, the Sun do exist, suggesting that solar flares and superflares most likely share the same origin.
Lucky for us, the probability of a superflare affecting earth is very low.