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Scientists say Sun capable of producing ‘superflares,’ – 1000 times stronger than any flare ever witnessed
May 2015 – SOLAR WEATHER – Could the sun unleash a flare of such a magnitude that it dwarfs anything that humans have ever observed? Yes, says Kazunari Shibata, an astrophysicist from Kyoto University in Japan, and it could have incredible consequences. At the recent Space Weather Workshop in Boulder, Colo., sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA, Shibata gave a sobering presentation on the possibility of “superflares,” solar flares that contain energy 1,000 times larger than what has been observed in modern times.
Solar flares are a common type of solar eruption, an explosive release of the magnetic energy concentrated in sunspots. Flares are an everyday occurrence – small ones – and can range in energy output over many orders of magnitude. The NOAA Space Weather Scales classifies flares by peak X-ray output on a 1-5 scale (R1-R5), with a flare rated “extreme” (R5) said to occur less than once a solar cycle. In this current cycle, no flare has exceeded the strong (R3) level. Solar flares are known to cause blackouts of radio communications on the sunlit side of the Earth and disrupt radio navigation services. They provide the energy for a class of energetic particle acceleration that results in solar radiation storms that can disturb or damage satellites. They are also sometimes associated with geomagnetic storms that, if severe enough, can disturb the Earth’s electrical grid.
Shibata presented a statistical analysis suggesting a superflare, off-the-charts of our current classification system, should occur about once every 10,000 years. But how do we know if the record of satellite observations of flare energy go back only to the mid-1970s? The answer lies outside our solar system. The NASA Kepler mission, launched in 2009, has been looking for Earth-like planets orbiting other stars. Kepler has seen a lot of stars and has shown, through further analysis, that many have properties similar to our sun. In fact, scientists have observed over 80,000 such stars. Hiroyuki Maehara and colleagues published a study (Nature, 2012) that found — after painstakingly analyzing the Kepler observations over a period of 120 days — evidence for 365 “superflares” on these stars. These eruptions are thought to be physically similar to what our sun produces, drawing the energy from the magnetic field in sunspots. –Washington Post
May 2015 – SPACE – STORM WARNING: NOAA forecasters estimate a 45% chance of polar geomagnetic storms on May 6th when a CME is expected to hit Earth’s magnetic field. The CME was propelled in our direction on May 2nd by an erupting filament of magnetism in the sun’s southern hemisphere. High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras.
X-FLARE: The sun is no longer quiet. Emerging sunspot AR2339 unleashed an intense X2-class solar flare on May 5th at 22:11 UT. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured the extreme ultraviolet flash: A pulse of UV radiation and X-rays from the flare caused a strong radio blackout over the Pacific side of Earth. This map shows the extent of the blackout, which affected frequencies below 20 MHz. Mariners, aviators, and ham radio operators are the type of people who might have noticed the disturbance. The explosion also hurled a CME into space traveling faster than 1100 km/s (2.5 million mph), the expanding cloud does not appear to be heading for Earth. –Space Weather