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The sun could release a 'superflare' 1,000 times more powerful than anything we've ever seen

Published by Business Insider on Mon, 07 Dec 2015

The sun is capable ofreleasing a giant burst of plasmathat'd beequivalent to the energy released by 100 billion 1-megaton bombs, according to new research.To put that in perspective, the most powerful nuclear bomb ever detonated, the Soviet-made Tsar Bomba, was 50 megatons (50 million metric tons of TNT).What's more, that kind of "superflare" could cause major power blackouts if one ever hit Earth.Solar flares our nothing newour sun regularly releases bursts of magnetic energy and plasma, and sometimes they graze Earth. Our planet's magnetic field protects us from the brunt of angry solar flares, but they can still mess with our satellites and communication systems.However, especially powerful flares can rip through that protective layer, fry our power grids and, according to some experts, cause as much as $2 trillion in damage.That sounds bad enough, but a superflare would be 1,000 times more powerful than all previously recorded solar flares and could cause even more destruction. Scientists now think our sun is capable of emitting one of these monstrous superflares after studying another star similar to our sun.Here's an illustration of one might look like. The left side shows the sun relatively quiet, and the right side shows what a giant superflare might look like:Astronomers have seenthesesuperflares come from a star called KIC9655129one of our nearest celestial neighbors in the Milky Way galaxy.The star regularly releases these giant superflares, which astronomers are studying with the Kepler space telescope. Researchers measured the wave pattern of several superflares and discovered they're very similar to the solar flares we see from the sun."[T]he same physical processes are involved in both solar flares and stellar superflares [and] supports the hypothesis that the Sun is able to produce a potentially devastating superflare," Anne-Marie Broomhall, co-author on the new study, said in a press release.That sounds pretty terrifying, but there is some good news here. A superflare might be possible, but for now it seems very unlikely that the sun will produce one, since the sun's cycle of solar flare activity is very different from KIC9655129's cycle."Fortunately the conditions needed for a superflare are extremely unlikely to occur on the Sun, based on previous observations of solar activity," lead researcher Chlo Purgh said in a press release.Still, even non-superflare solar flares remain a serious threat. The White House is developing an action plan in case a big one ever heads straight for Earth.Join the conversation about this storyNOW WATCH: Neil deGrasse Tyson: Here's what would happen if the sun disappeared
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