By Leah Crane
The sun could be one of our biggest threats in the next 100 years. If an enormous solar flare like the one that hit Earth 150 years ago struck us today, it could knock out our electrical grids, satellite communications and the internet. A new study finds that such an event is likely within the next century.
“The sun is usually thought of as a friend and the source of life, but it could also be the opposite,” says Avi Loeb at Harvard University. “It just depends on circumstances.”
Loeb and Manasvi Lingam, also at Harvard, examined data on other sun-like stars to see how likely solar “superflares” are and how they might affect us.
They found that the most extreme superflares are likely to occur on a star like our sun about every 20 million years. The worst of these energetic bursts of ultraviolet radiation and high-energy charged particles could destroy our ozone layer, cause DNA mutations and disrupt ecosystems.
But in the shorter term, the researchers say that less intense superflares of a type we know can happen on our sun could still cause problems. In 1859, a powerful solar storm sent enormous flares towards Earth in the first recorded event of its kind. Telegraph systems across the Western world failed, with some reports of operators receiving shocks from the huge amounts of electrical current forced through the wires.
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